Ralph Waldo Emerson once stated, “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Well, maybe, but it also implies conforming to high standards and dependability. In Blue is Karrin Allyson’s eighth Concord album and every one of those eight is a topflight jazz vocal album. The “In Blue” concept is a perfect idea for Allyson because her attractive husky voice is tailor made for the blues, and her Kansas City roots are evident in every syllable that she sings. It should also be noted that the blues are, of course, stories of loss and regret and Allyson’s conversational phrasing and appreciation for the meaning of words are amongst her many singing talents.
In this era of the singer-songwriter, it is almost obligatory to compose one’s own material (unfortunately, these so-called “originals” are often not very good). But, unlike so many contemporary singers, Allyson never writes her own material. She may write very well, but she seemingly accepts that the gift of composing is a separate skill set from the gift of performing. However, Allyson has an impeccable ear for a good song and has successfully pulled material from both the pop and jazz world and it all works in her jazz and blues context. Mose Allison, Bobby Timmons, Oscar Brown, Wes Montgomery, Blossom Dearie are represented, as well as the noted Matt Dennis and the Gershwins, who contributed the only two standards with whiskers, “Angel Eyes” and “How Long Has This Been Going On,” respectively. The other selections are songs popularized by living artists such as Bonnie Raitt (“Everybody’s Crying Mercy” and “Love Me Like a Man”), Joni Mitchell (“Blue Motel Room”) as well as the previously mentioned Allison, Brown and Montgomery. Karrin Allyson declares that these individuals are “all heroes of mine and huge talents.”
The recently deceased Matt Dennis would have loved Allyson’s achingly beautiful and elegant rendition of his classic “Angel Eyes,” perfectly weighted this side of sentimentality. That great arrangement is by her longtime collaborator, guitarist Danny Embry. One thing that you notice about the best jazz singers (and Allyson is certainly one) is that they invariably choose the right tempo and melodic embellishments. For example, listen to her grooving on the Bobby Timmons classic, “Moanin’” or her voluptuous huskiness on Bobby Troup’s slow-beat ballad “The Meaning of the Blues.” Allyson is blessed with a sly sense of humor (and sassiness) and her albums are equally inventive and entertaining. This playful quality, for example, can be found on Leonard Feather’s “Evil Gal Blues,” (which he wrote for Dinah Washington). Playful and sexy also describe Allyson’s approach to Oscar Brown’s classic “Hum Drum Blues” and the romping, stomping “Love Me Like a Man.” Allyson is also a most gifted singer of ballads and a perfect example is her rendition of “How Long Has This Been Going On.” Ira Gershwin, who was known as unyielding regarding the accuracy of his lyrics, would have loved her reading of his classic lines.
As always Allyson has an all-star band supporting her, including her good buddy Danny Embry, pianist Mulgrew Miller, drummer Lewis Nash, every drummer’s favorite bassist, Peter Washington and saxophonist Steve Wilson. There is not sufficient space to give this great band proper kudos. Let’s just say “absolutely Rolls Royce.” Allyson strikes gold again. The baker’s dozen songs are exquisitely crafted and perfectly delivered – this is peerless jazz singing and a perfect vehicle for her evocations of love fulfilled and unfulfilled. Highly recommended.