Kurt Elling: Secrets Are the Best Stories review – oblique brilliance

Almost exactly two years ago, Kurt Elling brought out The Questions, an album that demanded much of the listener – the opposite, you might say, of easy listening. The questions it asked were sociopolitical; he later summed them up as: “How did we get in this mess and what are we going to do about it?” This time the problems in question are immigration, human rights and climate change. As before, the approach is oblique. Elling adds his own lyrics to compositions by Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius and his own close collaborator, the Panamanian pianist Danilo Pérez.

He also adapts from contemporary poets, including Toni Morrison. We are left to make our own connections. It’s a dangerous procedure, since the only thing preventing people from simply giving up is the grip of the music, the fascination of the lyrics and Elling’s own voice. Fortunately, there’s some absolutely blazing stuff from Pérez and drummer Johnathan Blake, who seems to be everywhere these days. Elling himself has been hailed as the male jazz vocalist of the age, with a voice in a million. All this was more than enough to keep me listening.

Four stars