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Grace Kelly: Trying to Figure It Out

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Calling her new CD Trying to Figure It Out and making it clear at the outset of her liner notes that the album “explores the world of Jazz and Beyond,” Grace Kelly, the 23-year-old saxophonist who’s been a professional most her life, announces the inevitable: She’s ready for primetime; she’s making the big leap. As a prodigy, Kelly’s champions have included NEA Jazz Masters. She’s performed at major venues, has been tapped for film and TV work and has already racked up several albums as a leader. Her chops got her this far, but she’s too restless-or ambitious-to hold back.

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, then, that Trying to Figure It Out sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. It’s all over the place, but it never veers into the inaccessible. There are back-to-back takes on two of the most shopworn standards, “Smile” and “Over the Rainbow,” the former stripped to Kelly’s vocal and Henry Hey’s piano, the latter adding Tim Lefebvre’s bass and Lemar Carter’s drums, both rendered delicately and with panache. Those two come directly after the title track, more than a little suggestive of Norah Jones, and before the minute-long “Hey Connection,” an interlude featuring only keyboardist Hey and the guitar and programming of Daniel Rojas, no Kelly in sight.

The hodgepodge approach continues throughout: The evocative “He Shot a Man,” with vocals from Shayna Steele, is one of a few tunes that could accurately be dubbed cinematic in scope, and her “Amazing Grace” (we knew this was coming eventually) is one funky bit of gospel. “Lemons Make Lemonade,” the album-closer, is a slice of soul anchored by Jon Batiste’s harmonaboard and vocals and Kelly’s own soprano and alto saxophones.

Speaking of which, Kelly does still play saxophone. That’s still what she does best. It’s all well and good that she expands-who can blame her?-but hopefully she won’t forget why folks paid attention in the first place.

Originally Published