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After 20 years of working as a singer originally in Minneapolis and primarily in Kansas City, Karrin Allyson has recorded the album her fans have awaited...
..the album that no doubt will expand her recognition beyond those listeners who have savored her work as almost a private find.
And she has achieved all of this without compromising her dedication to jazz. In fact, she has achieved it by emphasizing that dedication.
Ballads connects Allyson’s long-obvious jazz sensibility with a concept that throws her into another phase of her career. We’re not talking about just any Ballads album. We’re talking about the Ballads albumthe John Coltrane masterpiece that gained the high degree of veneration reserved for his other invaluable albums. Putting Coltrane’s Ballads to song could be a bold concept. But it’s a logical one, even though it may have seemed sacrosanct. The original intention is for ballads to be sung. Ultimately, Allyson is merely moving these ballads from Coltrane’s album back into the vocal sphere where they began.
But the production values of Allyson’s Ballads: Remembering John Coltrane album are anything but mere. They include some of the more accomplished saxophonists on the scene today, all of whom have their own successful careers: James Carter, Bob Berg and Steve Wilson. Perhaps the obeisance to Coltrane that inspires them. But the saxophonists’ solos on all of the tracks (except for “I Wish I Knew” on which Allyson accompanies herself on piano) attain a fervor that becomes evident to the listener, such as Bob Berg’s gem on “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” In other instances, the saxophonists craft an iridescent quality, the colors shifting from bright swing to the darker hues of resolution, as on Steve Wilson’s work on “Every Time We Say Goodbye.”
While the addition of saxophonists to the vocal adaptation of Ballads: Remembering John Coltrane makes sense, it also provides evidence of Allyson’s respect for the music as well. Without ostentation, with due attention to words, but most importantly, with respectful knowledge of the Coltrane album, Allyson allows enough time on each track for each saxophonist to stamp his own musical personality and to tell his own story arising from the occasion of the melody. For instance, James Carter, subtly cushioning Allyson’s singing at the beginning of “Say It,” evolves the song into single-noted punctuations and then characteristic unctuousness. On “Naima,” both Allyson and Carter perfectly match harmonies in a wordless re-creation of Coltrane’s classic tune. When Allyson sings the melody in unison with Carter, their sense of pitch is so sure that voice becomes almost indistinguishable from tenor saxophone. Then, after Carter enlivens the tune with a controlled frenzy of a solo, he and Allyson break into moving harmonies that could easily be two voices or two horns, instead of one of each.
It seems that the ascension of Allyson’s career coincides with her move to New York from the comfort and friends of Kansas City. We don’t hear Rod Fleeman, Kim Park, Paul Smith, Claude Williams, Danny Embrey or Bob Bowmanwho served her supremely in the paston Ballads: Remembering John Coltrane. Rather, we hear James Williams, John Patitucci and Lewis Nash, who comprise a killer rhythm section, perhaps due only to the fact that Allyson is recording in New York now. Nevertheless, the combination of Allyson’s voice with a powerhouse piano trio and unleashed saxophonists creates a superlative album. The fact that Allyson has tied all of these components into an overriding concept makes Ballads: Remembering John Coltrane her best accomplishment yet, both in concept and in execution.
Track Listing: Say It (Over And Over Again), You Don
Personnel: Karrin Allyson, vocals, piano; Bob Berg, James Carter, tenor sax; Steve Wilson, soprano sax; James Williams, piano; John Patitucci, bass; Lewis Nash, drums