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October 2008

Grace Kelly/Lee Konitz
GRACEfulLEE
Pazz

In January 2008, when the alto saxophonists Grace Kelly and Lee Konitz got together to cut a couple of tracks and ended up recording this entire album together, Kelly was 15 years old and Konitz was 80. It is some measure of the effectiveness of both performers that, without that knowledge, the listener wouldn’t be likely to realize that the interplay on the disc featured a spiritual grandfather and granddaughter. Kelly is a prodigy for whom this is her fourth recording; Konitz has been both a mentor and a teacher.

The similarity between them is not surprising, but still can be striking, as on “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” In other instances, they alternate. On “There Is No Greater Love,” the first part features Kelly, accompanied by bassist Rufus Reid, playing arco. Reid dispenses with the bow in the second half, when Konitz comes in. The student is the somewhat more restrained, correct player; the teacher is freed up to take more chances and actually may be having more fun. The unplanned nature of the session is apparent in the arrangements and the playing, but that’s all to the good. Two tracks in a row, “Alone Together” and “Buzzing Around,” feature only Kelly and Konitz, playing for each other.

The latter track is billed as a “free improvisation,” meaning they made it up as they went along, and there are more of those as the album goes on, leading to the short final track, “NY at Noon,” which finds all the musicians—Kelly, Konitz and Reid, plus guitarist Russell Malone and drummer Matt Wilson—going for broke. It’s a happy mess. Kelly is still so young that it’s hard to avoid describing her in terms of a phenomenon. Paired with Konitz, she at least is able to share that pressure on the other end of the calendar. To the paired questions, “Has she really got it?” and “Has he still got it?,” the answer turns out to be, “Yes.”

Originally published in October 2008
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