The stark dramatic intro to the first track, Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, sets the tone for Kurt Elling’s latest album. A response to the widespread anxiety of the times we’re living in now, The Questions brings together a collection of songs that are sometimes cynical, sometimes hopeful and all thoughtful.
The jazzy and powerful singing we’ve come to expect from Elling is in abundance here. I should note that people fall into two camps when it comes to Elling – love him and hate him. I’m solidly in the love-him camp, but I can understand how some may not enjoy his vocal tone, which can be strident at times. His technical skills, big range and beautiful handling of ballads override any cringe-making bits for me though. His bandmates turn in equally powerful and emotive performances. Jeff “Tain” Watts is particularly strong on drums on A Secret in Three Views, a revamp of the Jaco Pastorius instrumental Three Views of a Secret that Elling has set lyrics to, with help from the 13th-century Persian poet, Rumi. This is just one of three songs on the album for which Elling has adapted existing poetry. The others are Endless Lawns – Carla Bley’s Lawns with lyrics from a poem by Sara Teasdale (with a gorgeous trumpet solo from Marquis Hill) and The Enchantress, a beautiful new song by pianist Joey Calderazzo with a bit of a bossa nova feel, and lyrics using lines from a Wallace Stevens poem. A lovely, swooping take on Skylark, with sensitive piano solo by Stu Mindeman, closes out the album with an appropriate sense of expectant longing.