James Morrison and Kurt Elling – Sydney Town Hall 11 May 2019

0A64AB91-3614-41E2-B3CC-785C9C832914So I begin this review with a disclaimer. Or a confession. Theatre has been my business and my passion, and I write about it with some knowledge and insight.

But not so music. It is my passion, my solace and has provided me with the soundtrack to life. Literally. Led Zeppelin was there when I made my first faltering steps into the permissive seventies, punk rock awakened a latent rebellious streak later that decade, and prog rock continues to fascinate with its stylistic brilliance and esoteric influences. This insomniac needs ambient music to get to sleep. Jazz, discovered rather late, is a journey I have really only just embarked upon.

And so I am writing a few thoughts about last night’s concert, from the point of view of someone who loves music, but is certainly no expert.

The Town Hall in Sydney’s CBD is a wonderful Victorian building, imposing on the outside and stunning in the interior. I was looking forward to hearing the legendary Morrison and Elling in this venue. I know a little bit about the acoustics of the hall, as I produced a musical and theatrical event there some years back. The acoustics are tricky, but get yourself a good sound operator and you’re in business.

Clearly the sound guys got it right last night, as the sound was impeccable and the balance between instrumentalists spot on.

I loved last night! With one and half reservations. Every musician on that stage was brilliant, and we were treated to some virtuosic performances. Each band member was featured in solos, while James Morrison and Kurt Elling took and commanded the limelight in feats of musical brilliance. The band was joined by Australian saxophonist Troy Roberts, now based in New York. I loved his playing, and probably could have heard more from him.

The Morrison line-up is 50% family, with William Morrison on guitar and Harrison Morrison on acoustic bass. Grant Windsor was on piano and Patrick Danao on drums. There was a great vibe on stage as they obviously love playing together and are so respectful of each other’s music. While not naturally drawn to drums (with the possible exception of Bill Bruford), I was a bit gob smacked by Patrick Danao’s playing which went from crescendic climax to a subtle and wistful mood.

I had never heard James Morrison play live before! I loved it, and was impressed with his virtuosic playing in his solos. The performance of The Night Was Sultry with sons William and Harrison and Paul Danao was lovely, quite captivating. Also in the reworking of John Brown’s Body, it was fascinating to see the interplay of the instruments to realise the traditional song as a jazz classic.

Kurt Elling is a consummate performer and is technically brilliant, his employment of scat seemed effortless. He definitely commands the stage and the ensemble when performing. I certainly enjoyed his numbers, but felt a little disappointed in All the Way, and in Nature Boy. The former was prosaic to the point where it lost significance for me, while the latter song seemed to miss the eeriness and pathos of other interpretations.

That’s the half reservation. My other reservation was the onstage banter between Morrison and Elling. Some of it was mildly funny, but a lot of it revolved around relationships between men and their partners, and was tied in to some of numbers in the set. I’m neither a prude nor a strident advocate of political correctness, but really, this is 2019, and you just can’t make (outdated) jokes that are naive and a little sexist.

This didn’t detract from a great night. My musical education is growing and I need more of it – live jazz, what a buzz, what a high!