By Simon Vozick-Levinson
Updated August 30, 2007 at 02:00 PM EDT
R Kelly: Jeff Kravitz/

Read enough about R. Kelly lately? If you’re sorry that all the “Trapped in the Closet” hullabaloo is starting to die down, fear not. His rapidly approaching sex-tape trial (jury selection is scheduled to start Sept. 17) should provide plenty of new material. In the meantime, though, try parsing an even more perplexing work of art: the R. Kelly Smooth Jazz Tribute.

I stumbled across the album while perusing this week’s new releases on the iTunes Music Store. Credited to the Smooth Jazz All Stars (also responsible for such fine albums as Jill Scott Smooth Jazz Tribute and Nelly Furtado Smooth Jazz Tribute), it’s exactly what that title suggests. Ten of Kelly’s biggest hits are interpreted in a subtle instrumental style informed by Kenny G; some sort of horn toots away where you’d expect Kells’ horny lyrics. All the bases are covered, from this summer’s “I’m a Flirt” to 1996’s “I Believe I Can Fly” to, yes, 2005’s “Trapped in the Closet.” And here’s the funny thing: These versions are actually sorta listenable. Seriously! The elevator-music take on the “Ignition” remix might even be more effervescent than the original, dare I say it. The All Stars, whoever they are, really studied their source material, and that makes all the difference—these are no cheap rip-offs. The tracklist doesn’t specify which part of the “Closet” saga is being tackled, but it’s impossible not to recognize the horn soloist’s approximation of those fateful words that opened Chapter 1:”Seven o’clock in the morning and the rays from the sun wake me/I’mstretchin’ and yawnin’ in a bed that don’t belong to me…”

addCredit(“R Kelly: Jeff Kravitz/”)

All of which leads me to one bombshell question: Could R. Kellyhimself be the mysterious musician behind this strange little gem? It’dbe far from the first bizarre in-joke he’d foisted on the listeningpublic. There’s even a historical precedent in the form of Thrillington, the fantastic lounge-music take on Paul and Linda McCartney’s RamLP that Macca released under a false name in 1977. Besides, who butKells would devote the time and energy it must have taken to put thismasterpiece of kitsch together?

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here. But just remember where you heard it first if R. Kelly ever comes forward to claim his Smooth Jazz Tribute. Deal? Or am I the only lunatic who’ll play these tracks more than once? Discuss.