I am a strong believer that the best way to enjoy music is while standing up. This applies to almost every concert I have ever attended-—and after attending Kurt Elling’s performance at the Sheraton Center, my belief was reaffirmed.
As soon as Elling took the stage and began singing, the depth of emotion that was found in his voice struck me. It was rich and smooth and from a visual aspect I would describe it as looking like a piece of velvet, or a half-melted dark chocolate. Although I was sitting far from the stage, I quickly noticed how expressive he was. Every word that he sang oozed with emotion that was also painfully expressed on his face. The instruments and Elling’s voice blended together seamlessly. Throughout the performance the musicians made their work look and sound as if it was effortless.
It was during the second song that I began to notice the odd juxtaposition found in Elling’s style and his lyrics. The pace and rhythm of the songs sung during his performance made it sound as if they were about true love, lost loves and beautiful women; many were. However, during his second song I was a little confused by lyrics about falling from heaven and being kissed by angels. I was unsure at this point if Elling was singing about being in love with a woman, or being in love with a spiritual being. I think my conclusion might have been due to the statement in the program that said “These two interests—singing and church—have remained constant for Elling.” That’s one thing that is so great about music, it’s up for interpretation.
Throughout the performance, I noticed people around me craning their necks from their uncomfortable straight-back chairs to enjoy Ellig’s performance. Many were also awkwardly tapping their hands against their legs, or nodding their heads to the beat. This made me wish that the floor could be cleared of the chairs and everyone would be free to dance and express their enjoyment of the performance they were witnessing.
I was amazed by Elling’s vocal range. His voice was deep and bass-filled at times and moments later he would be hitting much higher notes. The variation of how loud he was singing was also amazing to hear. The assortment of notes he hit and of the noise variation, was only enhanced by his choice to occasionally scat rather than actually sing any lyrics.
One of the main reasons that Ellig’s voice was so effective was the band, especially the masterful playing of the bass player Rob Amster. Amster’s bass solos gave the music a much hipper sound. I believe that the bass playing was the primary reason that I felt I should have enjoyed experiencing this show more in a smoky, badly lit club, where I could have been dancing, instead of sitting and nodding my head. Amster used many interesting techniques to incorporate various parts of his instrument to create music while Ellig was singing. During one of the songs near the end of the show Amster was not only using his bass as a string instrument, but also as a percussion instrument. He did this by tapping on the side of the large wooden bass in between the chords that he was playing. The sound was distinct and added an important element to the performance that had been missing before.
It was clear that the crowd enjoyed the jazz performance that night, but I left wondering how much better it would have been if the audience had been able to dance during the performance. There is something about the essence of music, and jazz especially, that just needs to be experienced in a more interactive manner. After intermission, Elling mentioned that we all could have been home watching T.V. at this point like the rest of America, but to me sitting in a chair to enjoy Elling’s performance was a little too close to sitting at home and watching television. It seems silly to pretend to enjoy music, while sitting in a chair and clapping politely as each song comes to an end.