“There’s a mystery,” Kurt Elling sings softly. “An enigma.”
Then, gathering momentum: “There’s a memory oh so slight.”
His words come near the opening of “A Certain Continuum,” the first single from Secrets Are The Best Stories, which Edition Records will release on April 3. For this album, Elling partnered for the first time with Panamanian pianist Danilo Pérez, whose dark-hued chords sharpen the uncertainty of the lyric.
Joining this reverie, in a steady accumulation, are percussionists Román Díaz and Rocério Boccato, drummer Johnathan Blake, and bassist Clark Sommers. Their 12/8 Afro-Cuban polyrhythm creates a slow churn over which Elling continues his reflective musing. “Questions about love,” he sings, “Are as old as everything that’s ever been / Questions linger on until the end.”
Elling, whose previous album was titled The Questions, is clearly extending a line of inquiry with the track, which premieres here.
“A Certain Continuum” builds on an iconic Jaco Pastorius composition, simply titled “Continuum,” and featured on the bassist’s self-titled solo debut in 1976.
It’s the second Pastorius tune for which Elling has recently written lyrics; on The Questions, he turned “Three Views of a Secret” into “A Secret in Three Views.” (Questions, Secrets; again, you’d be right to sense a theme here.)
“I’ve long been in love with this great Jaco composition,” Elling tells WBGO, speaking of “Continuum.” He adds: “There is an optimistic and joyful aspect that is fundamental to the sound. Moreover, the open nature of the chords and the piece’s circular structure makes it a great blowing piece for the right soloist. I can only hope Jaco would have been happy with our version.”
The arrangement owes at least some of its rhythmic design to Pérez, the sort of artist to draw a natural parallel between “continuum,” as an idea, and Afro-Caribbean pulse, as an ongoing practice. (It hardly seems an idle coincidence that Continuum is the name of another striking album featuring Díaz’s percussion — the 2012 breakout by Cuban pianist David Virelles.)
Elsewhere on Secrets Are the Best Stories, Elling interprets material by Vince Mendoza, Silvio Rodríguez and Django Bates — as well as a couple of themes by Pérez, and one by his longtime mentor and bandleader, Wayne Shorter. His lyrics draw similarly from a range of sources, including novelist Toni Morrison and poets Franz Wright and Robert Bly.
Along with Pérez and the others mentioned above, the album features guest appearances by guitarist Chico Pinheiro and alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón.
Secrets Are the Best Stories is now available for preorder. Kurt Elling will take his new project on tour in the spring, performing either as a duo with Pérez or with a quartet. See his website for dates and more information.