November 2001

Karrin Allyson - Ballads - Remembering John Coltrane
Concord Jazz CCD-4950-2
Released: 2001

by Bill Brooks

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

[Reviewed on CD]It’s like finding one of those "best kept secret" restaurants in your own backyard. When I received the new CD by jazz siren Karrin Allyson I thought the name sounded familiar. I jumped on the Internet for a little background information and soon found out she’s a Kansas City native. Hey, that's my own neighborhood! After a full evening of sitting in the dark listening to Allyson, the only thing that bothered me about this artist was that I hadn’t discovered her earlier. My own backyard -- man!

In her seventh release for Concord Records, Allyson decided to pay tribute to John Coltrane, an artist she had always admired. Taking Coltrane’s legendary "Ballads" album, Allyson gave each composition her own twist, added additional works, and created a disc that Coltrane would be flattered by. In fact, before embarking on the Ballads project, Allyson asked for Alice Coltrane’s consent, which she received.

In a world where primo female jazz singers seem to be in good supply, Allyson really is a standout. Her voice is clean, clear, and emotional, without any of the gravel or syrup some like to flaunt. When I first heard her I was reminded of a young Judy Garland and also a little of Linda Ronstadt. But comparisons are not really fair because this singer really does have her own style.

Those who enjoy listening to the old standards sung by a nightingale won’t be disappointed. Those who want something fresh -- a new take on things -- won’t be disappointed either. Allyson takes a standard like "You Don’t Know What Love Is," made famous by the likes of Lady Day, and gives it a real modern run. Her voice tests the melody's limits, like a great sax improvisation, but it never loses the song. Her emotions always come through, without overstatement. She lets the lyrics speak for themselves. "What’s New" sounds more like a taunt from an independent woman than the longing of a lovesick child.

The wordless "Naima" is worth the price of admission all by itself. Allyson’s voice takes on the part of an instrument in the band, demonstrating her range in a performance guaranteed to raise goose bumps. The band gets a chance to show off its considerable talents here as well. James Williams on piano, John Patitucci on bass, drummer Lewis Nash, and a trio of sax players: Bob Berg, James Carter, and Steve Wilson.

The recording falls just short of audiophile quality. Allyson’s voice is crystal clear and dead center. Imaging of most instruments is quite realistic, with the piano done especially well. My only real complaint is that the bass seems a little veiled throughout the disc. This is a small complaint on an otherwise remarkable project.

When are you playing in K.C. again, Karrin?