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Kellye Gray: Live at the Jazzschool

Presumably it’s based on the belief that the listening public expects all albums to shine with flawless, studio-precision clarity, but I’ve never understood or embraced the habit of “sweetening” live albums by smoothing over every imperfection, every wrongly bent note, every lyrical hiccup. So it was refreshing to read that with both these albums, recorded two weeks and a few hundred miles apart in 2007, vocalist Kellye Gray insisted not only on capturing the sessions precisely as played during a single performance but also on embracing the imperfections as part of the live experience.

In combination, these two platters serve up two hours of Gray, alongside a shifting assortment of bandmates, at her raw, uninhibited, deconstructionist best. For those unfamiliar with the Austin-born Gray from her previous discs-Standards in Gray, the superlative Tomato Kiss and the side-by-side live sets Pink Songs and Blue Songs-think of a layer cake with a dense Carmen McRae center, iced with swoops, dollops and occasionally wide swatches of Nancy Wilson and Billie Holiday, then dotted with Etta James bluesiness and Tina Turner wail. Gray’s is an impressive, indeed frighteningly vast talent, one equally capable of exploring the vivid scope of Wayne Shorter (“Speak No Evil” opens the Jazzschool disc and “Footprints” is the penultimate track on Bugle Boy), the reflective (and markedly different) despondence of “You’ve Changed,” “Willow Weep for Me” and “Days of Wine and Roses,” and the sagacious anticipation of “Everything Must Change” (the only song included in both sessions).

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