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Julie Kelly: Happy To Be

Dan Bilawsky By

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Over the past thirty years, vocalist Julie Kelly has established and cemented her sterling reputation via seven highly praised albums. Her eighth, a beauty in every way, is likely to garner her some more rave reviews.

After tackling a diverse program with able support from pianist Mike Wofford on Everything I Love (Chase Music Group, 2006), and grafting her own personality onto cool school vocalist June Christy's work with some help from pianist-arranger Tom Garvin on Kelly Sings Christy: Thou Swell (Chase Music Group, 2002), Kelly reunites with pianist Bill Cunliffe for this trip through lesser-known and highly agreeable material.

Cunliffe manned the piano and put the arrangements together for Kelly's Stories To Tell (Chase Music Group, 1994) and Into The Light (Chase Music Group, 2001), so both come to this project with a strong connection already firmly in place. Here, Cunliffe provides sensitive support when needed, kicks things up a few notches when the music calls for it, and effortlessly locks in with the two veteran rhythm men who were on board with him for the aforementioned albums—bassist Tom Warrington and drummer Joe La Barbera. Together, these three establish relaxed and swinging scenarios ("Harpo's Blues"), light a fire under Kelly and the rest ("You're The Dangerous Type"), sway along with middleweight ("Corcovado") and lightweight ("I Never Went Away") bossa nova grooves, and bop along in high-spirited fashion ("High In The Sky"). Man-of-all-moods guitarist Anthony Wilson, vibraphonist Nick Mancini, and a collection of accomplished horn players also make notable contributions throughout.

While Kelly's companions help to set the scenes, it's the singer who's left to work within them. Yes, most of the aforementioned players get to step out and solo at one time or another, but all eyes remain on this sublime vocalist throughout. Her supple and well-trained pipes can match wits with horns, effortlessly traveling the curves and contours of this music, but she never fails to also pay great attention to the meaning of lyrics and the emotional direction of a song: "Our Love Rolls On" and "I Have The Feeling I've Been Here Before" make that much clear.

Out of eleven songs, "Corcovado" is the only one that's covered with extreme regularity, and even that comes out sparkling and new in Kelly's hands. Happy To Be has it all: fine instrumental solos, a Rolls-Royce rhythm section, sharp arrangements, choice material, and a stellar singer who makes great use of it all.

Track Listing: Harpo's Blues; Happy To Be; Our Love Rolls On; You're The Dangerous Type; Corcovado; I Have The Feeling I've Been Here Before; The Blues According To Orpheus; I Wish I Could Go Traveling Again; I Never Went Away; High In The Sky; For Joni.

Personnel: Julie Kelly: vocals; Bill Cunliffe: piano, synthesizer; Anthony Wilson: guitar; Tom Warrington: bass; Joe LaBarbera: drums; Walter Rodriguez: percussion; Bob Sheppard: saxophone, flute; Clay Jenkins: trumpet; Ron Stout: flugelhorn; Bob McChesney: trombone; Kim Richmond: saxophone; Nick Mancini: vibraphone.

Title: Happy To Be | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Jazzed Media


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