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CD Review: Kathy Kelly - Owls Calling

Kathy Kelly – Vibes John Kregor – Guitar Dan DeLorenzo – Bass Andre Beasley – Drums Nicholas Gajewski – Drums

On Owls Calling, her second release, Chicago vibraphonist Kathy Kelly leads two different ensembles on 12 of her own intriguing compositions. Drawing inspiration from a variety of experiences Kelly has penned memorable and captivating tunes that are diverse enough to maintain interest yet do not compromise the thematic unity of the overall work.

Conceived during an artist’s retreat, “Blue Whale”, for instance, is a meditation on the majestic animal and the expansiveness of the ocean. The music is built with haunting repeating motifs, like waves. Kelly improvises with wistful elegance against the hypnotic rhythmic flourishes of her band. Guitarist John Kregor adds eastern hues with his resonant chords while bassist Dan DeLorenzo makes the strings reverberate in mesmerizing vamps and concludes with an imitation of the whale song.

Another quartet piece is the nocturnesque “Excuse My Blues” that Kelly wrote for the late great guitarist John Abercrombie. DeLorenzo exhibits elegant lyricism on his turn in the spotlight while drummer Andre Beasley solos with reserved passion and urbane agility. Kregor’s organic lines contrast with and complement Kelly’s crystalline, darkly hued vibrant chimes.

Five of the tracks on this delightful album are recorded with a trio. Drummer Nicholas Gajewski joins Kelly and DeLorenzo on such exotic originals as “Ethiopian Diamond” and “Kookicha”.

The former is named after a Chicago restaurant where Kelly performed and has the mystical aura of legendary percussionist Mulatu Astatke’s Ethio-jazz records. Over DeLorenzo’s visceral thumps and Gajewski’s angular beats and cymbals Kelly embellishes the melody with enchanting sensuality.

The latter is an intentional misspelling of the Balinese tea Kukicha. Gongs, wood blocks and mallets set a serene ambience. Even though Kelly plays the main theme with solemnity she also imbues it with a subtle but definite joy. The melding of east and western traditions creates a tense and stimulating atmosphere that makes this one of the more unique piece on the disc.

Kelly’s style has matured and evolved since her first recording, the appealing mainstream effort, A Different Vibe (Kanani, 2000). Owls Calling, is a brilliant expression of Kelly’s singular voice as a composer and a vibraphonist. Hopefully it won’t be 16 years before we hear again from this talented musician.


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