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Kurt Elling at Birdland, 10/25/11

With big band and guest Miguel Zenón, the vocal superstar dazzles

Kurt Elling and Miguel Zenon, Birdland, NYC, 10-25-11
Miguel Zenon, Birdland, NYC, 10-25-11
Kurt Elling, Birdland, NYC, 10-25-11

Nearly two years ago, Nate Chinen wrote in his JazzTimes column “The Gig” that Kurt Elling was “the most influential jazz vocalist of our time,” a statement so absolute that it triggered an all-out war in the comments section. One non-fan opined that Elling was nothing less than “a narcissistic, hepcat blowhard, and his performances are pretentious, overinflated, overrated, and downright silly.” Harsh.

But love him or leave him, Elling can’t be denied: his popularity shows no sign of abating more than 15 years after his recording debut, and a proliferation of similarly inclined male vocalists emerging in recent years would seem to bear out Chinen’s bold declaration. In the first set of a six-night/12-show run at Manhattan’s Birdland, each evening featuring a different guest artist (on this night, saxophonist Miguel Zenón), Elling reaffirmed why he’s attained mainstream success: His bravura performance, supported by Denmark’s Klüvers Big Band, was a thriller.

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