Review: Kurt Elling’s Secrets Are The Best Stories

As with most of Kurt Elling’s albums, you can tell that he studied theology at one point, with his songs reflecting metaphysical questions such as “why are we here?” and “how did we get all messed up?”. The beauty of Elling is that he presents these musical life issues with rich sounds and creative ideas, making seminary training hip and subtly swinging.

Here, he teams up with Wayne Shorter’s pianist Danilo Perez along with all-stars Clark Sommers/b, Johnathan Blake/dr, Rogerio Boccato/perc, Miguel Zenon/as, Chico Pinheiro/g and Roman Diaz/perc for a Givenchy approach to deep philosophy.

Some wonderful arias with Elling and Perez take place on duets of 3 “Stages” while Latin percussion drops in for a cantoral “Stays”. Modal work by Perez teams with congas and rich voice on “A Certain Continuum” and Elling sings in Spanish on a rich bel canto serenade with the pianist on “Rabo de Nube”. Dark duets lead into a trio form with Zenon eventually joining in on the dramatic “Beloved (For Toni Morrison” with a similar mode without the saxist on the hip pulse of “Gratitude (For Robert Bly)”. All throughout, Elling’s voice has a richness of mahogany throughout (particularly when he overdubs to create a choir-boy atmosphere), even when he still reaches back into his earlier days of vocal exploration. This one is a thoughtful thrill of contemplative concertos.