THE joke first. The Charlie Hunter trio consists of drummer Derek Phillips and Hunter, who fills the role of both solo guitarist and bass player on his trademark 8-string guitar. From the outset they set up a relentless, virtuoso rhythmic groove that never let up.
Kurt Elling bounced on stage wearing a shirt that – as he later remarked – looked as if it had just left an abattoir. His previous visits to Edinburgh had both been to sing with big bands, but the agenda here was a different one – this was Elling in funky mood, set to groove rather than swing, with a couple of excursions into the blues (he is, after all, a native Chicagoan).
A different setting, perhaps, but with the same matchless level of energy, vocal virtuosity and expressive magic. A different repertoire, too, with highlights including a memorable take on King Crimson’s Three of a Perfect Pair and Steve Miller’s Fly Like An Eagle, with a return to Miller for an encore of The Joker.
The singer also introduced a couple of unbilled guests – the music directors from those earlier big band projects, saxophonist Tommy Smith and trumpeter Tim Hagans, the latter in town to lead the festival’s big band tribute to Gil Evans. I’d guess it was the first time that Smith has soloed on a Hank Williams song – an eerie reading of I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.