This weekend's shopping list is now clearly defined. Just released, Kurt Elling's fifth album grabs you by the heartstrings and just won't let go. It's a ballad album from the emotional jazz singer based in Chicago. Emphasizing traditional harmony with unique inner voicing, Elling strolls with a superb horn trio and rhythm section. From a delicately soft whisper to a mighty roar, the vocalist produces dynamic changes to enhance each lyric gem. Coming from a wide range of sources, the program represents melodic beauty, and is steeped in jazz's history. Of his new project, Elling says, "I wanted to create something that genuinely comes from us, that can speak to a broader audience. We've been very experimental in the past, and in a way, this record is just as much an experiment." His thoughts, no doubt, lie with audience acceptance. Rather than diving into the creative ether, Elling is simply flirting with it this time out.
Every singer needs a clear mechanism for communicating with his audience. Kurt Elling's natural talent makes it work. His voice is both clear and flexible. Leaps in range pose no obstacle, as the singer dips and rises easily. All the while, his intuitive expression speaks to the public. The world over, folks are sure to get the message. He's supported by a stellar group. Bass and drums blend tastefully with distinction, while Laurence Hobgood leads with a sixth sense. The session provides warmth. Jeff Clayton's sultry saxophone interlude on "Orange Blossoms in Summertime" is followed by a lovely four-part harmony chorus. Elling, with superlative dexterity, supplies the wordless vocal fourth part. Bob Sheppard adds a pleasant, lyrical soprano solo to "Not While I'm Around," as well as a lush tenor interlude on "Say It." Elling's ballad album offers something for everyone and represents a logical step forward for the successfully creative young artist.