…Kurt Elling has just stolen a show.
Well, that might be an exaggeration, as there were many highpoints to Guy Barker’s storming Big Band Christmas Show (not least seeing the leader play trumpet, a rare event these days, and the calibre of both the players and arrangements) at the Royal Albert Hall last night, but one of the earliest was Kurt Elling hipping and scatting into The Little Drummer Boy, backed by the two drummers who were another delight of the evening. It is featured, in a slightly politer version, on his new Christmas album, The Beautiful Day.
I have been playing it all morning and was going to review it, but discovered Dave Gelly in the Observer had beaten me to it.
This album’s unlikely subtitle, Kurt Elling Sings Christmas, doesn’t signify wall-to-wall jingle bells. Read the three pages of notes if you want to know exactly where he stands, Christmas-wise. But if you want to hear a subtle, beautifully crafted and constantly surprising set of seasonal songs, just listen. The whole thing starts with bits of favourite carols, apparently thrown together at random, but in fact minutely layered. Along with his superb vocal technique, this artful casualness is one of Elling’s great strengths. From a funky New Orleans version of Little Drummer Boy to a breathtaking evocation of peace in The Snow Is Deep on the Ground, it’s flawless.
He is absolutely right. There’s Leslie Bricusse in there, Edvard Grieg and even Dan Fogelberg. As well as Kurt’s daughter Luiza. And it is great. It makes most of the other jazzy Xmas albums in my collection look like tasteless kitsch (although I have a very soft spot for Jimmy Smith’s dramatic march into “God Rest..”, as played by Guy’s band at the concert).
Just buy it. And make sure you see him in concert next time he is over. And lobby for the Barker Big Band Christmas to become an annual event.
STOP PRESS: There WILL be another Guy Barker’s Big Band Christmas Show next December.