Fred and Ginger, tomato and basil, gin and tonic: some pairings are such a natural fit as to seem inseparable. Singer Kurt Elling and pianist Laurence Hobgood were such a match for 20 years, but now the party is apparently over (excepting Hobgood’s presence as an arranger), and Elling’s new band is centred on guitarist John McLean and keyboards player Gary Versace. Certainly the latter especially suits this project, in which Elling draws on music from around the world with a common theme of romance, and Versace’s accordion becomes a vital texture, alongside his piano, organ and electric piano.
It’s hard not to admire Elling’s artistic development, from a brash young virtuoso constantly eager to remind us of the full range of his capabilities as an interpreter, improviser and innovator, to a more restrained, selective and mature singer, if a safer one. The composers here range all the way from Pat Metheny to Brahms, and Arturo Sandoval to Bjork, with the highlights including a stunning rendition of the Felix Reina Altuna classic, Si Te Contara.