Kurt Elling's latest, his second with bassist Clark Sommers, drummer Kendrick Scott and guitarist John McLean, is also his first without pianist and arranger Laurence Hobgood. (Keyboardist Gary Versace now completes the ace quintet.) It's a momentous turning point. Hobgood served as his musical Boswell for nearly two decades, their interdependent strengths critical to the widespread acceptance of Elling as jazz's foremost male singer.
No fear, however, for Passion World points, figuratively and literally, to exciting new horizons. Elling logs more tour miles than most jazz musicians, and like the polymathic sponge he's always been, he soaks up musical, cultural and philosophic ideas and influences wherever he ventures. His journey begins, appropriately, with a breakup, tidily summed up in his and John Clayton's 90-second "The Verse," followed by a renewed commitment to "grow into something more" within "a world of love and music," as spelled out in "After the Door," his lyrical refitting of Pat Metheny's "Another Life." Thereafter, his explorations turn intercontinental, to France, Ireland, Cuba, Brazil, Björk's Iceland and Brahms' Vienna.
A kaleidoscopic travelogue into heart and soul, the album includes a shimmering "La Vie en Rose" and a percolated shimmy through Dorival Caymmi's "Você Já foi à Bahia?" (featuring vocalist Sara Gazarek), as well as U2's peace-seeking "Where the Streets Have No Name" and the haunted ruminations of guest trumpeter Arturo Sandoval's "Bonita Cuba." Elling brings the voyage softly, poignantly home with composer Brian Byrne's "Where Love Is," built upon tender, heartfelt passages from a James Joyce poem.