By Will Friedwald, The City View
Yes, it’s another one of those amazing triple feature nights at Birdland, with three outstanding jazz singers. In the center ring is Kurt Elling, perhaps the most remarkable male singer of his generation, whose current show, The Questions, is so impeccable that we can well understand his impulse to release it in two versions, one from the studio and the other live in London. (I prefer the latter.) It’s his usual brilliantly eclectic mix, everything from a soulful update of Bob Dylan’s folk-music-inspired “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” a passionate reading of the big King and I love song, “I Have Dreamed,” and several typically well-considered Elling patchkaries, based on Jaco Pastorius, Carla Bley, and others. There’s no such thing as a Kurt Elling album you don’t want to hear or an Elling Birdland show that you don’t want to see.
Leading up to the main event are two worthy female artists. Sara Gazarek is something of an Elling protegee, and she doesn’t appear in New York nearly as often as we’d like; her latest, Thirsty Ghost, has brought her up to a Grammy-worthy level, and features inspired readings of both familiar jazz material (like the Green Willow show tune, “Never Will I Marry” and Hoagy Carmichael’s movingly lyrical “I Get Along Without You Very Well”) and the unlikely, like Nick Drake’s “River Man.” Veronica Swift, in her third distinct gig at Birdland in less than a month, is another superstar singer whom we can never get enough of, especially when she joins forces with piano powerhouse Emmet Cohen. Together, the Swift-Cohen combination can do no wrong.
So, my advice re Saturday, even with both APAP and the Winter Jazz Fest (both also recommended) going strong is to shoot for the trifecta at Birdland.