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Grace Kelly/Phil Woods: The Man With the Hat

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Grace Kelly

A Boston-based prodigy on alto saxophone, Grace Kelly plays just fine with the best, holding her own and then some. In 2008 she teamed up with alto saxophonist Lee Konitz on GRACEfulLEE. Her current soulmate is Phil Woods, the legendary alto man who will celebrate his 80th birthday in November of this year. They make beautiful music together, starting with the jaunty title track, in which Kelly’s and Woods’ solos bracket Monty Alexander’s swinging piano.

It’s hard to tell where one saxophone ends and the other begins-not surprising considering the way this CD’s blend goes beyond their intertwining: Kelly’s bassist Evan Gregor, whose arco solo sets her plaintive take on “Every Time We Say Goodbye” into high relief, and veteran Woods drummer Bill Goodwin round out the quintet, seamlessly crossing generations in this expert mainstream album.

While Woods provides depth and a welcome tonal darkness, this is clearly Kelly’s album. Both shine on Woods’ dramatic and serpentine “Love Song From Brazilian Suite,” and Kelly is particularly creamy on Billy Strayhorn’s lushly titled “Ballade for Very Tired and Very Sad Lotus Eaters.” But Kelly also sings here, and she sings well. The vocal tunes-a sultry, gentle rendition of Benny Carter’s “People Time,” with lyrics by Carter’s friend Deborah Pearl, and Kelly’s own tune, the wistful “Gone”-affirm her versatility and sensitivity. Her voice isn’t big, but it’s supple, pure and mature beyond her 18 years.

The production by Kelly and her father is clean and easy, befitting arrangements tastefully spiced with percussion and melodica (courtesy of Alexander, on “Gone”). This is an album that’s easy to listen to but is by no means “easy listening.” No quotes needed here.

Originally Published