Kurt Elling in Blue Bell, Pa., 12/3/11

The singer and his group thrill a Pennsylvania audience

Clark Sommers performing with Kurt Elling at Montgomery County Community College
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Ulysses Owens, Jr. performing with Kurt Elling at Montgomery County Community College
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John McLean performing with Kurt Elling at Montgomery County Community College
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Laurence Hobgood performing with Kurt Elling at Montgomery County Community College
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Kurt Elling in performance at Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, Pa.
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Kurt Elling thrilled the audience at this Pennsylvania college with his seemingly inexhaustible, four-octave baritone voice and dramatic songs that swept from one emotional high to another.

The show began with Elling and his rhythm section-Laurence Hobgood on piano, Clark Sommers on bass, Ulysses Owens Jr. on drums and special guest John McLean on guitar-spinning through a grooving version of Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out.” Elling’s romantic, luxurious version of Coltrane and Hartman’s “Dedicated To You” was followed by several tunes from the singer’s new recording, The Gate. A standout was his sensual version of the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood,” with guitarist John McLean adding a rocking solo. McLean was also was featured, on the beautifully arranged ballad “Skylark.” The guitarist’s unaccompanied introduction shimmered with beauty and perfectly complemented Elling’s vocals.

Elling moved into a bit of storytelling as he presented opposing takes on lost love. First, he dug deep into the Earth, Wind and Fire ballad “After The Love Is Gone.” Then, he swung through “Come Running to Me” by Herbie Hancock.

Elling closed the set with a crowd-pleasing and soulful Jazz arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s “Golden Lady.” Hobgood, Sommers and Owens Jr. laid down some swinging improvisation while Elling scatted with such coolness and perfection jaws dropped in awe throughout the theater.

For an encore, the group performed the beautiful ballad “Luiza,” by the great Brazilian composer Tom Jobim. Before rendering the song in its original Portuguese, Elling translated a bit of it to convey the pure passion of Jobim’s lyrics. Throughout the 90-minute performance, Elling was upbeat, warm, and charming, and extremely gracious to his fans in an after performance meet and greet.