Soulfulness has always been a motivating force for John Patitucci, the Brooklyn-born bassist of Chick Corea and Wayne Shorter renown. Songs, Stories & Spirituals (Concord) brings that factor to the forefront literally, in an ensemble setting that emphasizes collective lyricism and communication. The songs on Songs are gospel hymns, Brazilian lullabies, jazz standards, 19th century tone poems, and sensuous original tunes-in other words, a thoroughly mixed bag. But Patitucci and his core partners Ed Simon and Brian Blade (on piano and drums, respectively) thread a common sensitivity through the proceedings; as a trio, they’re the picture of fluid understatement and natural poise. They also serve as an ideal supporting cast for vocalists Luciana Souza and John Thomas, who provide the disc’s heart, if not its soul. Souza brings intense musical understanding to the table, whether she’s breezing through Brazilian fare (“Lei,” by the pop composer Djavan, is an album highlight) or waxing more ethereal with wordless melodies (occasionally reminiscent of both Corea’s Return to Forever and Shorter’s landmark Native Dancer). “In the Bleak Midwinter,” a Christina Rossetti poem, achieves a kind of sanctified breathlessness as Souza, then Thomas, sing the stately lyric against an achingly lovely backdrop of Patitucci plus string quartet. This atmosphere of restraint continues throughout the disc, which ends on John Coltrane’s “Wise One,” rendered as a Patitucci and Blade duet. It’s a fitting close to an album of subtle surprise and variegated approach.