Kurt Elling and SuperBlue at Cleveland Museum of Art
In his 30-odd years on the scene, Grammy-winning singer Kurt Elling has topped the Down Beat Critics Poll 13 times and has received the Jazz Journalists Association Male Singer of the Year award eight times. He’s done this while singing texts written by Theodore Roethke and Walt Whitman, a Monkees hit, one of Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes. Whitney Balliett might have had Elling’s musical choices in mind when he wrote his famous characterization of jazz as being “the sound of surprise.”
Yet none of Elling’s neck-snapping musical eccentricities was as shocking as SuperBlue, which will come to Gartner Auditorium at the Cleveland Museum of Art Wednesday.It’s a pandemic-born lark with producer/guitarist Charlie Hunter, drummer Marcus Finnie and sensational young keyboard hotshot Julius Rodriguez that dares Elling to post in unfamiliar territory: R&B and even hip-hop. Does a 55-year-old onetime divinity student whose musical persona is more beatnik than beat-maker have any business attempting such a thing?
Against all odds, the answer is yes.
While Elling’s material frequently embraced the lofty, his approach to performance can be lighthearted, even goofy. In this context, finding “Naughty Number Nine,” from the Disney television series “Schoolhouse Rock,” on the just-released SuperBlue: The Iridescent Spree (Edition Records), seems perfectly logical, even inevitable.
Novelty might be everyone’s thing, but deep grooves and danceable rhythms make friends everywhere they are heard and they are The Iridescent Spree’s secret weapon. On the recording Hunter simultaneously plays bass lines, chords and melodies on his seven- and eight-string guitars while DJ Harrison and Corey Fonville of the Richmond jazz/funk/hip-hop crew Butcher Brown lay down body-moving beats. To his credit, Elling doesn’t shrink from the challenge presented by the band’s rhythmic tsunami. He surfs it, perhaps not always idiomatically, but with a daring sense of adventure and fun, the kind that dares the audience to come along for the ride.
SuperBlue with Kurt Elling and Charlie Hunter, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 7:30, Gartner Auditorium, 11150 East Boulevard, Cleveland, $43-59, available here.
Dan Bruce’s Ohm! at BOP STOP
Guitarist Dan Bruce has a thing for punctuation marks in the names of his bands. He started the trend with his :beta collective and he’s at it again with OHM! That’s the name of his new trio with bassist Denzel Chismar-Oliver and drummer Nathan Douds, which makes its BOP STOP debut Sunday to get October off to an electrifying start.
The reference is no accident; ohm is the name given to a unit of electrical resistance but transliterated without the “h” it is also the syllable that represents the primordial sound of the universe in South Asian belief systems.
“”I like that double meaning,” Bruce told me by phone from an Alla Boara tour stop in Rochester, “but I also like the idea that if you’re saying it, you’re saying it with enthusiasm. So I put the exclamation point there for that.”
The most enthusiastic reception for the new band might come from Bruce himself who lately has been interested in turning his focus from writing for ensembles such as the Third Law Collective, the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra and beta–oops, :beta–toward more blowing.
“I just want everything to groove,” Bruce said. “No matter how complicated it gets, it’s got a groove that was our bottom line. I wanted that to be the driving force,” he said. ” I would say it’s pretty fusion/rock, funk-based modern jazz.”
The band will come into BOP STOP after a gig at The Treelawn earlier this month and a couple of gigs at Con Alma in Pittsburgh, where Chismar-Oliver and Douds are based. Longtime scenesters will recognize Douds as a prominent drummer and sometime pianist in Cleveland several years ago.
“We’ve been in each other’s musical universes for a while, and since he’s been in Pittsburgh, he started playing more again,” Bruce said of Douds. “So we just decided to put a trio together. He’s one of these people that is amazing.”
When we spoke, Bruce was contemplating having a video crew present at BOP STOP to capture the energy. “I don’t know that it’ll be a recording, but we’d like to get some video singles out there so you can kind of see what’s happening.”
OHM! (Dan Bruce, Denzel Chismar-Oliver, Nathan Douds), Sunday, Oct. 1, 7 p.m., BOP STOP, 2920 Detroit Ave, Cleveland, $20, available here.