On his first album Chicago-based vocalist Kurt Elling intrigued audiences, and on his second he challenged them. On his newly released This Time It’s Love (Blue Note), he tries to massage them–and woo a few new listeners as well–with an album of love songs. But Elling’s artistic restlessness and natural iconoclasm wouldn’t let this be a typical “ballads” album. For starters, you can’t apply that term to either McCoy Tyner’s driving, Coptic “Effendi” or Freddie Hubbard’s “Delphia,” a 1970 tune that weaves and feints like a balletic boxer (and with Elling’s lyrics becomes a steamy evocation of sexual attraction). And two other tunes that qualify as ballads–“The Very Thought of You” and “She’s Funny That Way”–are relieved of any excess sap by Elling’s smart vocalese (the technique by which a jazz lyricist fits words to a previously improvised instrumental solo, preserving all the meanderings of the melody). “My Foolish Heart” has a tough, street-smart beat that lifts it out of its gauzy origins; one more standard, “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing,” gets a delightful and only partly tongue-in-cheek treatment in which a chorus of overdubbed Ellings recalls the swing era’s Modernaires. And because the few tunes that do follow the rules–unabashed romantic fodder such as “Too Young to Go Steady” and “Every Time We Say Goodbye”–contrast so starkly with these unexpected twists, their purity and their impact are heightened. Elling’s refusal to play it straight may put a kink in his plan to expand his following, but it has let him succeed in thoroughly rethinking the whole ballads concept. At this outdoor CD-release party Elling will perform tunes from This Time It’s Love with his regular trio, led by powerhouse pianist Laurence Hobgood; violinist Johnny Frigo and tenor saxist Eddie Johnson will reprise their album guest spots and vocal quartet the Arbors will stand in for the above-mentioned legion of Ellings. Johnson will also play in a combo led by trumpeter Orbert Davis to open the concert. Friday, 7 PM, Columbian Basin, Museum of Science and Industry, 57th and Lake Shore Dr.; 773-684-1414. Elling also performs next Saturday, August 29, at 4:30 PM at the Goose Island Festival, Clybourn and Sheffield; 773-472-9046. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by William Claxton.