Album number 11 from Kurt Elling sees the singer casting his stylistic net far and wide, its eclectic song list drawing not only on Brazilian and Cuban music, but also on French chanson, Brahms, and traditional Scottish music. With an impressive list of musical collaborators including Richard Galliano, Sara Gazarek, Arturo Sandoval, Till Brönner, the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and the WDR Big Band and Orchestra, Elling serves up a stunning 12-track collection revolving around love and heartbreak and their interpretation through song in different musical cultures. And with such a guest list it's hardly surprising that these confessions of the human heart offer wholly different textural palettes and rhythms to delight the ear.
Based on Pat Metheny's 'Another Life' with new lyrics by the singer, 'After The Door' is one of the most beautiful things Elling has committed to disc. Picked up many years ago while a student in Scotland, the traditional 'Loch Tay Boat Song' possesses a beguiling simplicity, while a deluxe arrangement of 'La Vie En Rose' boasts one of the great Elling vocalese lyrics penned to a Wynton Marsalis solo on that tune. With music by Arturo Sandoval and lyrics by Elling and Phil Galdston, 'Bonita Cuba' is a salutary tale of heartbreak. Guitarist John McLean steps up with a number of ear-catching arrangements, from Björk's singularly catchy 'Who Is It?' to Dorival Caymmi's utterly joyous 'Você Já Foi à Bahia?' to the unforgettable 'Where Love Is', a setting of a James Joyce poem about the dissolution of love ('Dear heart, why will you use me so?') by the Irish composer Brian Byrne, which brings Elling's most ambitious project to date to a quietly devastating end.
Four stars: * * * *