Kurt Elling: Passion World

Globe-trotting romance was stylish and sexy in the '50s when Frank Sinatra hit the friendly skies with Come Fly With Me. Kurt Elling works in that tradition here, though both the times and the flight plan have changed. He's gathered up international material from Björk to Brahms and fashioned a suite of art songs intended to explore the nuances of romance in a broader cultural context.
Elling casts a soft precision over the better material, mostly avoiding dramatic flourishes of dynamics and the sort of jazzy vocal high-step-ping we know he can manage. He gives “Loch Tay Boat Song” the purity of a traditional folk sing-er. Guest trumpeter Arturo Sandoval is equally understated on his cameo, “Bonita Cuba.”Since “La Vie En Rose” is the most familiar of the tunes, Elling not only sings it in French, but interpolates an English lyric of his own to a vocalese-style music line drawn from a Wynton Marsalis performance. That song, together with “Si Te Contara” and a featherweight samba duet with Sara Gazarek, gives Elling a certain breadth of virtuoso opportunity. The one bridge-too-far is “Where The Streets Have No Name.” The cryptic lyric is gilded with a poetic artifice that puts it beyond the particulars of meaning. It wouldn't be accurate to call this a “romantic” album. Elling is just a few too many steps ahead of us to offer us the familiar comforts Sinatra might give. Romance is sentiment, something Elling is a bit uneasy with. A crooner with a Beat poet attitude, he flirts with romance as he undermines it with a subtle but eclectic audacity.

Three & a half stars: ***½