I caught one set of Kurt Elling at The Green Mill last night. It was fun. The Green Mill is an interesting hang. It’s decorated in classic Chicago gangster. The sound is excellent, at least where I was, which was fairly near the stage. The whole experience was also fairly reasonably priced. The cover charge, two Bell’s Ambers and tip was less than $20.
The set opened with a couple of Laurence Hobgood compositions by the trio. The tunes were interesting and the thorough arrangements were well performed. Often the instrumental tunes that precede the featured singers appearance can be simple time killers, but these were quite rewarding.
Elling is known (in my mind at least) for his work channeling saxophonists, and adding often fascinating, and sometimes unintelligible, words to their recorded improvisations. Last night, in the first set alone, we got classic Elling treatments of music from John Coltrane, Grover Washington, Jr., and Chicago legend Von Freeman.
Elling has a sense for show like most singers, but he deftly balances that with an equal modern jazz aesthetic. I’m not often taken with jazz vocalists, especially the ones that are really show tune singers with jazz musicians accompanying them. Elling however can really make his voice become a part of the band, and the jazz spirit it creates. I am glad I caught a set worth of his music on my night off in Chicago.