Karrin Allyson's 'Round Midnight
Karrin Allyson earned a 5-star review in this month's Downbeat for her recent Concord Jazz release, 'Round Midnight. Notwithstanding the tendency to overpraise everything these days, a 5-star is still pretty rare in DB, but certainly well-deserved in this case. 'Round Midnight features a generally subdued set of ballads, most with new arrangements by Karrin, who accompanies herself at the piano. Her regular colleagues, guitarist Rod Fleeman and bassist Ed Howard are here, along with Matt Wilson on drums and Bob Sheppard on saxophones and clarinets.
Allyson has a rare gift for bringing wry insouciance and emotional depth to her material, and she's blessed with flawless pitch and timing. She also draws on an impressive array of sources, including jazz and American Songbook standards; contemporary songs by Joni Mitchell, Billy Joel, and Mose Allison; classic blues; and music of French and Brazilian origin. Karrin's take on Antonio Carlos Jobim's "O Pato (The Duck)" is a perennial favorite of her live shows.
One was all too ready to declare a moratorium on yet another version of "'Round Midnight" a few years back, but Karrin breathes new life into Thelonious Monk's modern jazz anthem in a duet with Howard on this disc. Other highlights include an unusually spry take on "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most," the Tommy Wolf-Fran Landesman ballad inspired by T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland;" and "Goodbye," the haunting Gordon Jenkins ballad that's been enjoying a revival of late. Indeed, "Goodbye" is also heard in a stunning arrangement by Bob Sheppard on his new BFM Jazz release, Close Your Eyes, in which his tenor saxophone is heard against a cascading background of flutes.
When I first heard Karrin at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago back in the '90's and introduced myself as visiting from WFCR in Amherst, she quipped, "Oh, how lucky you are to live in Robert Frost country!" As it happens, she had recently recorded Jay Leonhart's tongue-in-cheek ballad, "Robert Frost," in which his musical protagonist expresses envy over a poet's privilege at having a patron, whereas he's got to suck it up every day in the workaday world of jazz.
More to the point, however, Karrin had come to love Western Massachusetts through her regular appearances at the Iron Horse. Lately she's been spending more time in the area, and she's gone ahead and presented a few concerts of her own at the Unitarian Society in Northampton and the White Brook Middle School in Easthampton. On these shows, the kind-hearted singer has showcased some of her favorite colleagues, including Sheila Jordan, Gary Smulyan, Bruce Barth, Rebecca Parris, and Gene Bertoncini, and had a ball doing so.
We'll hear Karrin Allyson's recording of "Goodbye" in tonight's Jazz à la Mode.