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Nancy Kelly: Well, Alright!

The best things in life, and jazz, happen spontaneously. Which brings us directly to Ms Kelly, who again has teamed up with tenorist Houston Person. They collaborated in ’06 on Born to Swing; now their unique rapport graces a fledgling label in Bellevue, WA, Saying It With Jazz. Kelly and Person say it with eloquence, spread over eleven live tracks, backed by a highly responsive rhythm section: pianist Randy Halberstadt; bassist Jeff Johnson; and drummer Gary Hobbs.

Kelly gives a master class on every track, belting “But Not For Me” at supersonic speed, avoiding words as if they were road-blocks, but never losing the jazz pulse. Person quotes from “Third Man Theme;’ Halberstadt offers his own, from “Surrey With the Fringe.” Kelly comes roaring back for the out chorus, resorting to scat for the title.

“Who Can I Turn To” gives Kelly a chance to channel Carmen McRae; Anita O’Day is conjured up during “I Only Have Eyes,” containing Kelly’s signature visceral growl. Her range comes in handy on “Let’s Fall in Love:” she ends on the fifth, then suddenly swoops an octave higher. The girl’s fearless; does it again at the end of “Let It Be Me.” The title tune gives Halberstadt his solo highlight: Brubeck-flavored. Person’s tour de force comes on “Since I Fell For You.”

BIllie Holiday’s “Fine & Mellow” evolves into a shuffle-shout, call-and-response with Kelly’s adoring audience. That’s how it went all night: the humor of a jazz conversation with everyone hearing each other; no need for arrangements. Person is a sensitive listener, filling in Kelly’s gaps with intelligent comments.

The two must be joined at the hip — very hip.

Originally Published