In a field where vocal strain is the norm, Karrin Allyson’s effortlessness is remarkable. With subtle colorations, Allyson ever so gently wrapped herself around a songbook of jazz standards, blues and a bit of Brazil, her tunefulness always paramount. Last year’s disc “Ballads: Remembering John Coltrane,” her seventh for Concord, established the Kansas City-based Allyson with a jazz community that prefers instrumentalists; her next offering, “In Blue” — scheduled for an Aug. 13 release — extends her perfectionist’s touch to the gentle side of the blues.
Her first set, a healthy 75 minutes long, took its first step into the blues with Mose Allison’s “Everybody’s Crying Mercy.” Allyson learned the song from a Bonnie Raitt recording, and her third-generation rendition pulls it further away from its front-porch meditation roots, giving it more of a cabaret treatment and adding a bounce to the rhythm. She’s the rare young performer confident in adjusting a melody to suit her vocal strengths — a wordless rendition of Coltrane’s “Naima,” for example, found its beauty in her voice and subtle piano playing, but Danny Emery’s fleet guitar lines brought nothing to the tune; she tenderly made “Good Morning Heartache” delightfully melancholic.
Though she has earned plaudits over the years for her scatting, she kept the improv to a minimum, choosing instead to caress the words of Blossom Dearie’s “Bye Bye Country Boy” and the Jon Hendricks-penned vocalese lyrics to Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin’,” two tunes that appear on the new disc.
Allison’s band, working from sheet music, had its ups and downs: pianist Bill Cunliffe framed most pieces with striking minimalism; Emery’s work on the acoustic-electric guitar ably serviced uptempo and bossa nova tunes, but was too amped on several ballads; ace drummer Joe La Barbera remains one of the best in the biz when it comes to accompanying singers; and Tom Warrington delivered a steady bass.
“In Blue” should continue to widen Allison’s audiences as the album could easily be marketed toward fans of Blue Note’s tyro sensation Norah Jones and lovers of a sophisticated take on the music.