Kurt Elling: Passion World

| July 12, 2015

Kurt Elling

Passion World

July 12, 2015

(Concord Jazz)

Reviewed by Victoria Ordin for Cabaret Scenes

Kurt-Elling-Passion-World-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212I always knew I’d fall for the girl next door/To stay at home with love would be my great reward.” Kurt Elling’s Passion World begins on a note of raw and wistful melancholy that runs—sometimes breathlessly, sometimes haltingly—through most of the songs on the jazz singer’s fifth Concord release. “Would” is the operative word here. Like the title of its fourth track, “Si Te Contara,” whose opening lines—“If you knew my suffering/You would have to care”—spell out the album’s longing as clearly as any, much of the album seems to be written in the conditional or subjunctive tense.

But the “simple life of love” was not to be, so “in search for a new loving home” the speaker in “The Verse” goes, and we go along for the ride. The songs span seven countries (Brazil, France, Germany, Scotland, Ireland, Iceland and Cuba) and four languages.  Most critics have focused on the album’s eclecticism, but as one delves deeper into the songs, it becomes clear that Elling’s musical and personal wanderings are an inevitable consequence of the first track’s “sorrow[ful]” recognition that dreams must be pursued “on the road.”

The album’s title prepares us for the expansiveness of its paradoxical search for home—or stasis—in movement. We are surprised only by how successfully that “theme” announced in the first track proceeds through material so stylistically and geographically diverse. As Andrew Gilbert notes, this has much to do with the “enviable cohesion and versatility of his [Elling’s] collaborators,” including guitarist John McClean, pianist Gary Versace, bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Kendrick Scott.

The desperately sad “Bonita Cuba,” a collaboration with Arturo Sandoval, voices, however improbably, the longing in “Where the Streets Have No Name” (The Edge/Bono), which McClean transforms from rock mega-hit to lilting folk-jazz ballad. In another astonishing arrangement, McClean creates a haunting, elegant version of Björk’s “Who Is It (Carry My Joy on the Left, Carry My Pain on the Right)” that is all but unrecognizable from the original.

Both the U2 and Björk renditions reinforce that the search for place is ultimately an attempt to name, or to personalize, place. And the Brahms “Nicht Wandle, Mein Licht” (Liebeslieder Walzer Op. 52, No. 17), whose inclusion in the collection is nothing short of inspired, functions almost as a spiritual voice from the past, reminding us that the search for home—and a home in others—is as timeless as it is universal. Passion World may not come to rest, or complete its search, but the beauty and energy of its attempt makes us feel at home.

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Category: Music, Music Reviews

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