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Kelly is a singer who knows her way around a lyric and puts that knowledge into her performance.

Music Review: Julie Kelly – ‘Happy to Be’

A veteran jazz singer on the West Coast scene, Julie Kelly is set to release her eighth album Happy to Be, her first for Jazzed Media. Working with a top notch 11-piece ensemble, she runs through a menu of 11 tunes, most of which you won’t find on the typical songstress’ bill of fare. It’s not just original compositions, although there are a couple of those as well. She has chosen a program filled with solid songs that might not have been quite what you’d call standards, but in Kelly’julie kellys hands who knows what the future might bring.

Kelly has something of a special relationship with Brazilian music. Certainly the best-known piece on the album is the Jobim classic “Corcovado.” In an arrangement by Venezuelan pianist Otmaro Ruiz she begins in Portuguese before turning to English after a lyrical little guitar passage from Anthony Wilson for an inventive exploration of the tune. She also hits a Latin vibe with “I Wish I Could Go Traveling Again,” with some sweet solo work from Bob Sheppard on flute.

She changes pace with “High in the Sky,” a bop romp from Thad Jones with new lyrics by the Dutch vocalist Fleurine. The piece features one of those drum solos from Joe LaBarbera that used to have the rest of the band leaving the stage in the old days and some swinging work from the horns. It is altogether one of the album’s many highlights. Kelly supplies a cleverly literary lyric for “The Blues According to Orpheus,” a hip take on the myth, with some fine solo work on the synthesizer from the album’s producer Bill Cunliffe and guitarist Wilson. Kelly also collaborated with composer/lyricist Susan Marder on the lyric of “For Joni,” a beautiful poetic homage to Joni Mitchell which concludes the set.

Kelly gives a sensitive reading to Phoebe Snow’s “Harpo’s Blues,” the album’s plaintive opener. But she is equally effective with ballads like “I Have a Feeling I’ve Been Here Before,”  “Our Love Rolls On,” and “I Never Went Away.”

Julie Kelley is no novice. This is a singer who knows her way around a lyric and puts that knowledge into her performance.

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