Designed to reflect Kurt Elling's multicultural life on the road, Passion World presents the jazz-vocals virtuoso at work in English, French, Portuguese and German, with two orchestras (Tommy Smith's Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and Germany's WDR), and star soloists including Smith on sax, Cuban trumpet maestro Arturo Sandoval and accordionist Richard Galliano.
Elling has risked biting off more than even his formidable chops can chew with such an ambitious project, but if it occasionally sounds like a compilation more than an entity, it's full of subtle life. Tommy Smith's exquisitely misty tenor sax coaxes Elling's subtly Celtic lilt on Loch Tay Boat Song, and Bonita Cuba (inspired by Sandoval's emotions about his family's exile from the island) features a moving delivery of Elling's own lyrics, and a graceful trumpet meditation. The Tangled Road is Sinatra-like, and if La Vie en Rose in French and Brahms's Nicht Wandle, Mein Licht in German aren't wholly convincing, Elling the romantic balladeer is otherwise in beguiling form. A raft of fine instrumental solos also gives the jazzers plenty to smile about.
Three stars: * * *