Photo Credit: D. Sabella

Karrin Allyson
Birdland
March 5, 2019

As Karrin Allyson took the stage at Birdland, she immediately transported us out of the rush of a busy life and into the calm and enticing world of jazz. The evening was a journey through her favorite jazz standards and Brazilian songs, a touch of Broadway re-imagined and some of her own compositions.

Opening the show, Allyson sang two original compositions from her recently released album, “Some of that Sunshine.” Known for her intricate jazz interpretations and mastery of rhythm and lyric, she certainly can spin her own tale with equal brilliance in her two opening numbers. I Wish You Were Mine and Home have an intricate blend of lyric and music we expect from Allyson. She painted a mournful picture of regret and unrequited love through her words and music, seamlessly using vocaleses and scat to deepen and enrich the texture and mood of the songs.

Her second set came from her album “Footprints,” using popular jazz instrumental songs with lyrics added by Chris Caswell.  The music and the lyrics work so closely together to tell the story that it is impossible to say whether the lyrics inspired the music, or the other way around. Never Say Yes (Chris Caswell/Nat Adderley) and Can Alma (Chris Caswell/Dizzy Gillespie) are two perfect examples. If I hadn’t known the instrumental versions before, I would have thought the lyrics were written right alongside the music.

While each of these songs was a complete story capsule, together they tended to be very similar in sound and style. Each one ended similarly with the use of extended scat sections and a light use of sotto voce, leaving a need for a change, which was soon to come. Following these numbers, Allyson livened the evening up with two Brazilian songs, Blossom (Jobim) and Medo de Amar (Caswell/Viniciuse de Moraes), both beautiful, lively and evocative of the Brazilian landscape and people.

Next, Allyson took on Broadway with a set of songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein, opening with a slow, blues version of You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught. The subdued sarcasm in the blues approach was more like a wink to racial prejudice than the slap it should be. While an interesting approach, it didn’t provide the bite necessary to convey the power of the lyric. Her interpretations of Something Wonderful from “The King and I” and Something Good from “The Sound of Music” were much more effective in conveying lyrics while exploring the melodic and harmonic landscape of these classics of the American Songbook. The intimacy of these arrangements was unexpected and effective, giving us a unique point of view. However, if you usually find yourself swept away with the power of Rodgers’ melodies, you may feel a bit underwhelmed by this more nonchalant approach.

Throughout the evening, Allyson’s mastery of style, lyric and music took us on a journey, exploring the human condition of love, dreams, disappointments and hope. This was all brought together in her stunning rendition of Everything Must Change (Berhard Inghner). Reminiscent of the quiet brilliance of Sarah Vaughn’s version, Allyson’s rendition created a heartfelt and devastating moment that had me holding my breath until the final note.

I must take this moment to acknowledge the wonderful musicians on stage with Allyson. It was a true pleasure to hear Miro Sprague (piano), Marty Jaffe (Bass) and Jerome Jennings (drums). Sprague showed his mastery of style at the keys by switching deftly from jazz to blues to pop. Jaffe brought subtlety, joy and humor to his bass licks, and Jennings was flawless on percussion.

It is always a privilege to hear artists like Karrin Allyson and her band, who so generously invite us into their world to experience their stories with them. To close, Allyson chose a song by Todd Buffa and Gerry Niewood that sums up in one word what one feels after an evening with Allyson: Joy.