Kurt Elling: The Questions review – sheer vocal beauty

When it comes to expressiveness, technique and sheer beauty of voice, I can think of no male singer alive to equal Kurt Elling. As they used to say of Sinatra, he could sing the Manhattan phone book and have the audience on the edge of their seats. An Elling song can be a meditation, a demand, a lament, an expression of wonder, but never naive and rarely simple. Among these 10 tracks are elaborate musical and verbal constructions built around existing songs or instrumental pieces, with words by Elling interspersed with extracts from the works of various poets.
This, of course, is the kind of thing that can go disastrously wrong, The fact that it doesn’t has a lot to do with the authority conveyed in Elling’s voice. But the arrangements, the instrumental playing and the minute perfection of the whole production demand to be taken seriously. Elling’s co-producer, Branford Marsalis, as well as contributing some gloriously fluid soprano saxophone, is clearly a moving spirit here. Another is the late Jon Hendricks, master of the art of jazz and words, to whose memory the album is dedicated.

Four stars: * * * *