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Grace Kelly / Phil Woods: Man With the Hat

Larry Taylor By

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Jazz veteran Phil Woods carries the alto sax torch from Charlie Parker, following in the footsteps of Art Pepper, Cannonball Adderley and Lee Konitz. Now he bestows the honor on 18-year-old altoist/vocalist Grace Kelly, its light shining on Man With A Hat.

Woods, 80, with over a half-century of playing, first met Kelly in 2006 when she was 14 and attending the Stanford Jazz Residency Program in California, where Woods was an instructor. He encouraged her and, a few months later, they were reunited at a Woods gig in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. When he invited her onstage, he was so moved as to remove his iconic leather cap and place it on her head. Hence, four years later, Man With A Hat is named and dedicated to Woods' bebop legacy. The two saxophonists appear with a solid group, performing seven standards and two originals. Special mention goes to pianist Monty Alexander, who stands out with always creative solos and backing.

Kelly appears with Woods on the first four tracks, the saxophones blending and weaving in and out—the master in support, letting the pupil show of her stuff with vibrant solos. On the final three numbers, she is on her own, in quartet and duo settings.

The opener, Kelly's "Man With the Hat," is dedicated to Woods, of course, immediately establishing the happy bebop sprit of the disc. Each saxophonist delivers sweeping choral lines in tandem, before Kelly solos. This sets the pattern for subsequent songs: unison lines in the introduction, setting off centerpiece solos. Alexander also introduces himself right away, fingers joyously moving all over the keyboard.

Kelly's plaintive take on Billy Strayhorn's "Ballad for Very Tired and Very Sad Lotus-Eaters" is very impressive, as she charms with sensual filigrees. She also takes two vocals turns, and is particularly effective on Benny Carter's "People Time," introducing new lyrics by singer/screenwriter Deborah Pearl with her lovely, pliant voice.

For the finale, a jaunty stroll through Jerome Kern's "The Way You Look Tonight," Kelly offers her own updated interpretation of bop, while always considering roots. Near the end of the piece, Alexander breaks the brisk mood with a majestic interlude, before breaking into its lickety-split finish.

Kelly released her last CD, GRACEfulLEE (Pazz, 2008), with Lee Konitz. Now, with Man With A Hat, she can certainly join both of these giants in the alto sax brigade.

Track Listing: Man With the Hat; Love Song; People Time; Ballad for Very Sad and Very Tired Lotus Eaters; Gone; Everytime We Say Goodbye; The Way You Look Tonight.

Personnel: Grace Kelly: alto sax, vocals; Phil Woods: alto sax (1-4); Monty Alexander: piano; Evan Gregor: bass; Bill Goodwin: drums; Jordan Perlson: percussion (7).

Title: Man With the Hat | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: PAZZ Productions, LLC

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