If you know anything about Julie Kelly’s peripatetic life, it makes perfect sense that the eminently stylish veteran jazz vocalist decided to title her first album in ten years Freedom Jazz Dance – and include a quirky, peppy twist on the Eddie Harris/Eddie Jefferson classic that includes sung and spoken passages. In some ways, her whole existence has been a freedom jazz dance, from her days folk singing with her twin sister Kate to backpacking through South America and establishing herself in the jazz scenes of San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles.
Musically, one of the most impactful years of her life was the one she spent singing in Rio, where she met legends and developed a lifelong love for Brazilian music. Decades later, these passions are still empowering her, leading her and pianist/arranger Josh Nelson to create fresh, feisty and fabulous swirls through “A Ra (The Frog)” and “Ponteio,” both sung flawlessly and soulfully in Portuguese. Anyone curious about Kelly’s adventures on the Amazon will enjoy the poetic narrative she creates on the hypnotic ballad “River People,” which she co-wrote with Brazilian-American singer Catina DeLuna. Speaking of exotic things and rivers, she showcases her equal facility for Spanish on a gentle, sensual sway through “Al Otro Lado Del Rio,” the Oscar winning song from The Motorcycle Diaries.
Elsewhere, she celebrates her memories of NYC on the timeless 60’s gem “Sunday in New York,” mines the tender heart of Gregory Porter’s socially conscious “Take Me to the Alley,” brings a passionate longing and sensuality to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain” and a wondrous, intimate take on the beautiful Sting obscurity “Practical Arrangement.” This latest triumph in Kelly’s career was co-produced by Nelson and Barbara Brighton.