For fans of vocal jazz--heck, for anyone merely intrigued by it--this one's a no-brainer. Kurt Elling, who's topped readers and critics polls in Jazz Times and Down Beat, has brought together his contemporary Kevin Mahogany and the two surviving vocal heroes of the hard-bop 60s, Jon Hendricks and Mark Murphy. The resulting quartet represents not just the alpha and omega of male jazz singing but also the most impressive all-star vocal gathering of any kind in 40 years, since Dave Brubeck played host to Louis Armstrong, Carmen McRae, and the very same Jon Hendricks for his 1961 album The Real Ambassadors. Improbably puckish at 80 years old, Hendricks helped revolutionize jazz singing in the late 50s with the group Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, penning soulful and sophisticated lyrics to songs and recorded solos by jazz giants of the day--an art known as "vocalese." Murphy, who turned 70 this spring, has brought his own spin to this technique, having defined himself early in his career with a style that mixed Sinatra swagger with beat-poet cool. Both men sound a lot better than they should at their age: in fact, on any given night, each can pull off a reasonably faithful imitation of his youthful prime. And each has served as a mentor to Elling, who has revitalized the beat sensibility for his own generation and pushed vocalese to a new plateau, tackling monumental solos by John Coltrane and Dexter Gordon. Mahogany, on the other hand, mostly steers clear of vocalese, instead tilling the loamy ground first plowed by the great Joe Williams. With his deep, vibrant baritone, he balances jazz, his native Kansas City blues, and (on the new Telarc disc Pride & Joy) the soul and R & B he grew up on--plus, like the rest of the quartet, he can scat up a storm. For the show's title Elling has borrowed the nickname of the sax section in the 1940s Woody Herman band, which like this group featured three tenors and one baritone. And that band's signature tune, also called "Four Brothers," will doubtless find its way onto the program here--complete with Hendricks's famous lyrics. Saturday, June 15, 7:30 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 773-929-5959 or 312-559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.