Live at Scullers
The new live album from Grace Kelly opens with “Please Don’t Box Me In,” the alto saxophone prodigy signaling her Esperanza Spalding-sized ambition to add singing and songwriting to her portfolio. That particular tune’s ambitiousness, ironically, makes it the disc’s weakest: The lyrics are earnest and trite, and Kelly’s singing in spots is overblown. “Night Time Star,” likewise, suffers from Hallmark sentiments, but is enlivened with solid solos from Kelly on alto and Peter McCann on electric guitar.
The disc’s remaining four vocal tracks, however, have a catchy, casual charm to them. “Eggshells” boasts a calypso feel provided by McCann’s guitar. “Ready, Set, Stay” is a poppy jewel co-written with singer-songwriter Emily Dale, its infectiously bubbly melody propelled by McCann’s ukulele and bowed cello by Eric Law. A similar vibe prevails on “Falling,” which adds whistling by trumpeter Jason Palmer and an audience sing-along to the uke and cello. “Kiss Away Your Tears” is a lovely ballad with a country feel, its sentiment coming across as more earned for being understated.
All four instrumental pieces impress. “Autumn Song” has a chamber-music calmness to it that swells in places, with solos from McCann and Kelly. The leader switches to soprano sax for her energetic original “Searching for Peace”; on that cut, Palmer coaxes a laugh from the audience by quoting the theme music from Sanford and Son during his superb solo, and drummer Mark Walker shines on his lone solo of the set. Two standards wrap things up and fortify Kelly’s jazz bona fides: “The Way You Look Tonight,” which she recorded previously with her mentor Phil Woods, swings hard; and “Summertime” has the horns soaring over a funk treatment built on Zach Brown’s electric bass, McCann’s effects-augmented guitar and Walker’s drums. All in all, it must have been a very enjoyable night at Scullers.