Mar 19, 2018
A new album from vocalist Kurt Elling always gives his listeners a chance to follow him further on his unique musical journey. The 13-time Grammy nominee (he won in 2009 for his tribute to the classic album John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, entitled Dedicated to You) never fails to go deeper into the musical canon in search of tunes to interpret, as well as instrumentals for which he can add lyrics. A student of poetry, philosophy and religion, as well as of jazz history, Elling’s latest release, The Questions allows his to delve into issues which affect him - and us – in his special way.
While it didn’t start out that way, The Questions became an album of songs that alternately ask and attempt to answer existential questions that have always been at the core of human thought. When he records his version of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, the questions asked and enigmatic answers given seem to be ripped from today’s headlines, and then are followed by the seemingly incongruous “A Happy Thought.” The give and take of the themes may be the philosophical core of the album, but its Elling’s way of adding a lyric, interpreting a song, or allowing his band and guest soloists room to shine that makes The Questions a triumph.
Perhaps no tune on the strong album better illustrates Elling’s talent that his version of Jaco Pastorious’ well-known tune “Three Views of a Secret”, first recorded on Jaco’s Word of Mouth album in 1981. In Elling’s hands it’s now “A Secret in Three Views” with his lyrics inspired by a poem from the 13th century mystic Rumi. His voice is the lead instrument in more than ways that the typical singer, as he moves from his baritone to higher ranges and back as if he were a saxophone, and the musical tension and release does the late bass master Jaco proud.
Podcast 614 is my conversation with Kurt Elling, as we discuss the new album; his continued collaboration with Branford Marsalis that began with last year’s The Upward Spiral; and how the current political climate influenced his work. Musical selections include “A Secret in Three Views,” plus his take on Peter Gabriel’s “Washing of the Water” and Paul Simon’s “American Tune.”