Kurt Elling ‘Passion World’ (Concord) 4/5

kurt-ellingSinging in several languages other than one’s native tongue is no easy task and requires a good deal of preparation and vocal dexterity. This was the challenge singer Kurt Elling set himself with the latest project and, as a whole, this works rather well. Being a native of cosmopolitan Chicago as is this case with Elling who continues to live there, one hears on the streets of the windy city a variety of languages from the different ethnic communities resident and this may just have been the stimulus for Elling’s project. Whatever the case, he sings convincingly in most of the Romance family languages as well as German. Indeed, the album works best in a Latin vein as on the superb Portugese Brazilian duet with Sara Gazarek, covering Dorival Caymmi’s ‘Você Já Foi À Bahia?’ and Elling should think seriously about an entire album devoted to the post-bossa period of Brazilian music. or even one solely devoted to the music of the Caymmi family, the musical equivalent of the Watersons in England. Another interesting composition is the Spanish language ‘Si te contara’, that has something of a tango flavour with the use of accordion, but then blossoms into a Cuban rumba with added percussion and male call and response background vocals. Fans of the French chanson tradition will be delighted to hear a rendition of ‘La vie en rose’ which is given a jazzy orchestral reworking courtesy of the WDR Big band and this includes a lovely bossa guitar section. Another larger ensemble piece is an unlikely, yet highly successful, collaboration between Elling and the Scottish National Jazz orchestra under the expert leadership of Tommy Smith who doubles up on tenor saxophone. Collectively they revisit the traditional ‘Loch tay boat song’ as a ballad.

Back in more familiar territory, Elling has regularly added lyrics to familiar instrumental jazz works and on this occasion it is a lesser known Pat Metheny composition, ‘After the door’, and this features soloing from pianist Gary Versace. What works less well are the covers of pop/rock numbers, such as that of U2’s ‘Where the streets have no name’ and the staccato intro is a little odd sounding while the choice of a Bjork song is questionable. However, it is also an indication that Elling is willing to take risks rather than revisit the same repertoire. That Kurt Elling is a highly versatile musician is beyond dispute and he even enters into western classical terrain on a Brahms Lieder entitled, ‘NIcht wandle, mein licht’ with strings from the WDR Big Band. A collaboration with Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, Bonita Cuba’, is in fact delivered in English and is a classy jazz ballad with Sandoval in close pursuit.

With the recent passing of the sadly departed Mark Murphy who is no longer with us (though the music will live on). Kurt Elling now has the responsibility of taking up the male jazz vocal mantle and he is now at a stage in his career where he is capable of taking centre stage with aplomb. Kurt Elling will be performing along with the Swingles on Monday 16 November at Cadogan Hall as part of the London Jazz Festival.

Tim Stenhouse