Passion and romance as told and described in various parts of the world – that’s basically the concept and idea behind the new album by singer Kurt Elling. The last time I saw him he didn’t make a good impression but it wasn’t his fault, but rather the strange arrangements of the leader of the WDR Big Band at a concert at last year’s Berlin Jazzfest. The Big Band can be heard on the new album as well and Kurt starts off after a short “The Verse” with Pat Metheny‘s “Another Life”, becoming “After The Door” with new lyrics by Kurt.
The Scottish traditional “Loch Tay Boat Song” which also features the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Tommy Smith, continues the melancholy and Kurt switches to Spanish on the Cuban classic “Si Te Contara”, written by Felix Reina, a composer and violinist who was born in Trinidad in 1921. The track features the majestic sound of the accordion of Gary Versace who is also featured on Rhodes, piano, and organ. The journey continues to France with the immortal “La Vie En Rose”, also with new lyrics by Kurt, and a special guest apperance by alto saxophonist Karolina Strassmayer as part of the WDR Big Band backing the song.
“You don’t have to scat to be a jazz singer”, says Kurt according to the press release to the album and oh how I subscribe to that. There are too many singers around who think just that! So this time, Kurt has completely abandoned it (and let’s face it: the only singer who is good at it remains to be Ella Fitzgerald) which is one of the cutest treats on this album. “Bonita Cuba” was written by Arturo Sandoval and Kurt gives the song some truly inspiring, sad and beautiful lyrics. It’s about Arturo’s parents who never had the chance to visit their home turf again after Arturo had brought them to the US. It’s very charming to hear Arturo play a somber and lyrical trumpet here and not have him ranting and raving as is very often the case in his playing.
Kurt’s guitarist John McLean arranged the U2 classic “Where The Streets Have No Name” featuring Sara Gazarek on backing vocals. This song hadn’t really grabbed me in the first place and doesn’t do it for me either in this new version. “The Tangled Road” is an original Richard Galliano composition called “Billie”, dedicated to Billie Holiday, and has another special guest here: German trumpet ace Till Brönner playing an impulsive solo. Unfortunately, the Dori Caymmi penned “Voce Já Foi À Bahia” with Sara again is much too short even though it breaks up the somber mood of the album with a joyful inermezzo. Kurt sings German in the Brahms classical piece “Nicht Wandle, Mein Licht” which again has the WDR Big Band accompanying him and its pianist Frank Chastenier as soloist. There is no denying the amazing artistry here but by now, the whole atmosphere has really become rather lugubrious (I’m going to listen to the album again in November…).
The last two songs are by Björk (“Who Is (Carry My Joy On The Left, Carry My Pain On The Right)”) who I think is much more tolerable as a songwriter than a singer (I always cringe when I listen to her awkward voice) and a song based on a poem by James Joyce with lyrics by Brian Byrne (“Where Love Is”) ending this very ambitious project on a really gorgeous note.
Kurt is playing the European festival circuit in July with his new project including stops in Funchal (July 3rd), Vilafranca (July 4th), Sardinia (July 5th), Copenhagen (July 7th), Nice (July 9th), Darmstadt (July 10th with guest Till Brönner), Kassel (July 11th with guest Till Brönner), Rotterdam (July 12th with guest Richard Galliano), Molde (July 14th), Valletta (July 16th), Halkidiki (July 18th).