“We want to make it feel just like a jumpin’ jazz club in here tonight,” quipped Kurt Elling in his Chicago drawl as he took to the stage with Australian trumpet maestro James Morrison.
And that’s just what happened at the Perth Concert Hall this week.
It’s not every day you see two world-class jazz practitioners mixing it up on stage, but Morrison and Elling thrilled their Perth audience with two passionate sets of jazz virtuosity.
Musical geniuses both, they are touring together for the first time, and what a combo: an ARIA award-winning horn player and the stand out jazz vocalist of our time. Jazz aficionados couldn’t ask for more.
It was a concert to remember.
The atmosphere at the PCH was relaxed and the music aflame as the duo played off one another, switching from ballads to swinging standards from the hit parade of yore.
After a genial instrumental opening set from Morrison and his rhythm section, Elling joined the ensemble on stage and things really started to cook; the swagger and charisma pulsing off the stage.
Elling’s take on the classic Jimmy Van Heusen-Sammy Cahn ballad All the Way (a Sinatra hit) had the audience mesmerised; and when Morrison (playing great piano) and the band transformed the old US Civil War ditty John Brown’s Body into a jazzy masterwork the audience roared with appreciation.
Despite it being their first tour here together, you’d have thought the twosome had been gigging for years, taking the night’s tune list into their own musical stratosphere, like only the truly talented and practised can.
Elling is a blend of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Harry Connick Jr. all slipped into a silk dinner suit, while bringing his signature complex and quirky phrasing and intonation to the mike.
His ability to sprinkle rapid-fire lyrics and scat with resonant, drawn-out single notes makes him unique in the jazz scene.
Multipart Jazz progressions and chords can be some of the trickiest in all music, but the gifted Mid-westerner bopped through the sound labyrinth like a cocky sprite.
James has described his pal’s voice as a “musical instrument and a human vocal rolled into one,” his range being so complete and nuanced.
Then there’s the horn man himself. Morrison’s trumpet is exemplary, seeming to get more dazzling and adventurous as the years go by. The man mastered the intricacies of the genre years ago and now takes his playing to places where only a handful of trumpeters like Armstrong, Shaw, Hubbard, Davis, Gillespie and Marsalis have dared to toot.
Both musos aren’t afraid to experiment with intricate musicality, pushing the envelope of melody, sometimes piling improvisation on improvisation, transporting a tune to new, elevated creative plains, a la John Coltrane.
The two stars were ably assisted by the tight and impressive abilities of the boys in the band, two of them James’s sons, Harry and William, on bass and guitar respectively. They were joined by Patrick Danao on drums, Grant Windsor on Piano (Kurt’s pianist), and Troy Roberts on sax. Troy is a Perth expat and is making his own big mark in New York these days.
During the night the multi-skilled Morrison played a couple of favourite trumpets, the trombone and piano, each with consummate finesse.
The night concluded with James on piano accompanying Kurt in a final soulful ballad. The band had slipped away back stage.
At one point Morrison was playing piano with his left hand and trumpet with his right, accompanying Elling’s adroit and sparkling crooning – a fitting finale to a night out with two giants of modern jazz.