Grace Kelly

GO TiME: Live In LA
(Pazz)

There’s a delicate line between retro-chic and threadbare, and this outing undeniably flings toward the latter. Grace Kelly sometimes deploys her estimable alto saxophone prowess amid a thicket of gooey electric textures and tinny drum beats that harken to early-1980s smooth-jazz without a hint of subversion. Other times, she sings in a kittenish manner while serving listless makeovers of jazz and pop staples.

Recorded live at Los Angeles’ Blue Whale nightclub, Kelly’s lukewarm performance results in a classic case of squandering talent. It’s clear from her biting attack and succinct flourishes that r&b-leaning saxophonists like David Sanborn are her lodestar. Unfortunately, a program of unimaginative covers—The Beatles’ “Come Together,” Louis Jordan’s “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t (My Baby),” Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love”—does little to catapult Kelly beyond genuflecting competence. She seems unwilling to advance the lacquered soul-jazz of yesterday into the 21st century. And there hasn’t been enough passage of time for this treacly aesthetic to sound fresh again. Even her rendition of Chick Corea’s “Spain”—with all its tricky passages—comes off ho-hum.

Except for some mildly interesting trades between drummer Ross Pederson and guest tap dancer Sarah Reich on “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t (My Baby),” and Kelly’s spirited romp on the Crescent City-flavored “Lemons Make Lemonade,” featuring a guest spot by Jon Batiste, her accompanying ensemble lights a low flame.