Music Review: Allyson evokes heartache, pathos on new CD

Karrin Allyson, “‘Round Midnight” (Concord)

Karrin Allyson’s darkly beautiful and melancholic “‘Round Midnight” offers a sharp contrast to her last album, 2008’s Grammy-nominated CD “Imagina,” a bright and breezy, upbeat homage to Brazil’s bossa nova master Antonio Carlos Jobim. Here Allyson shows her versatility with a tastefully understated, back-to-basics collection of classic jazz and pop ballads (with a few rarities) by such masters as Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Johnny Mandel, Stephen Sondheim and Paul Simon.

Allyson makes this album even more personal and intimate by handling all the keyboard parts herself for the first time on the 13 albums she’s recorded for Concord over the past 20 years. Her classical piano training shows in her elegant introduction to Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” while her electric Fender Rhodes adds a more contemporary feel to Simon’s folk-rock “April Come She Will.”

Allyson’s musicianship is evidenced by the fact that she wrote nearly all the arrangements herself, starting with the opening “Turn Out the Stars,” slowing down the tempo of Evans’ tune to elucidate Gene Lees’ bittersweet, nuanced lyrics. Her arrangements also benefit from a strong supporting cast — guitarist Rod Fleeman, harmonica player Randy Weinstein, and particularly reedman Bob Sheppard, who broadens the instrumental palette by playing tenor sax, bass clarinet, soprano sax and flute on different tracks.

Allyson is a consummate jazz singer whose harmonic feel and storytelling skills enable her to evoke the heartache and pathos of both older and more contemporary songs, from the Chopin-inspired “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” and “Goodbye,” associated with the Benny Goodman Orchestra, to Fran Landesman’s “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” and Anthony Newley’s “There’s No Such Thing as Love.”

CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: Allyson closes the album with Monk’s “‘Round Midnight,” her sultry voice accompanied only by Ed Howard’s acoustic bass in a sparse arrangement that enhances the tune’s theme of late-night loneliness.

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