Vocalist Alyssa Allgood has been hailed as one of the most promising young voices in jazz, and with good reason. She brings a full spread of talents to the table. Immediately noticeable are the freshness of her improvisational appetizers, the refinement of her main courses, and especially the tactfulness of her holistic desserts in arranging and composing. All of this reflects her dedication as both student and teacher, and likewise a cornucopia of major influences, including Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan, Madeline Eastman, and, inevitably, Ella Fitzgerald. Ella looms large in her voice, as evidenced by the title alone of her debut EP, Lady Bird
"I think Ella is the 'go-to' for so many jazz singers," she tells All About Jazz, "because she has such a pure voice. I have always found the sweetness of her tone to be engaging and endearing. Ella was also an incredible vocal improviser, which is something very important to me." Indeed, Allgood's skills in that regard are put to the test in a (mostly) wordless take on Charlie Parker's "Yardbird Suite." The album's opener eases into earshot by way of Matt Plaskota's brushed drums, priming the canvas for Allgood's scatting. The precise instrumentality of her singingrarely heard anymore outside the realm of, say, Sheila Jordansets an architectural precedent and breaks new ground in a tail of original lyrics at the finish line. Saxophonist Alex Beltran and Dan Chase on organ add some sear to the pan, while guitarist Tim Fitzgerald, who completes the band, stews in flavorful soloing.
In a world where scatting seems a lost art, hers shines like a newly discovered planet. "I am always working to develop my improvisation skills," she elaborates. "I try to keep my scatting fresh and instrumental by listening to instrumentalists, doing solo transcriptions, and reviewing jazz harmony. Listening to and transcribing the jazz masters, such as Miles Davis and Charlie Parker, helps develop my language and fluidity." If the proof is in the pudding, then her original "Jaded" is a heaping bowl of it, as she trades capable solos with her bandmates. Deeper crosstalk abounds in the Jobim chestnut "If You Never Come To Me," which under the scrutiny of her musicians breathes warmth and subtropical sunset. Allgood's clarity of expression swims freely in their atmospheres, catching a bluesier current or two along the way.
For an album with only five cuts, Lady Bird
is a remarkably full portrait. Allgood reveals many facets of her artistry throughout, each song a showcase for at least one of her many talents. By switching up tempi, dynamics, and lyrical content (or lack thereof), she ends up with an engaging set. Some of her most developed strengths lie in her abilities as an arranger, as in the seamless intro she adds to the standard "If I Should Lose You." Chase's organ carries the tune as genuinely as she, and its withering world is all the more bittersweet for Allgood's sultry shading. That she accomplishes these transformations while still maintaining the integrity of the originals is no small feat. Of this phenomenon, she remarks, "Jazz is a very personal art form and I enjoy being able to add my own voice to songs that were written decades ago." Her adept lyrics for the album's title track are another example. Their dedicatory flair and relatively upbeat delivery take the listener on an autobiographical journey from appreciation to creation. Solo flights from Fitzgerald and Chase add to the feeling of gratitude. Allgood: "I wanted to end the album with the title track, because the original lyrics I wrote on that song symbolize my finding freedom in music. Recording this album was a big step in developing my creative process."
Allgood is currently preparing her first full-length album and is set to participate in the 2015 Montreux Jazz Voice Competition in Switzerland. With plenty of new arrangements already in the wings, she needs only to be recognized more widely before she can spread her own more fully.
Yardbird Suite; If You Never Come To Me; Jaded; If I Should Lose You;
Alyssa Allgood: vocals; Don Chase: organ; Tim Fitzgerald: guitar;
Alex Beltran: saxophone; Matt Plaskota: drums.