Allyson Sings With Passion, Confidence


Kansas City singer Karrin Allyson has taken her music into new territory--and into unusual territory, at that. On Wednesday, in the opening set of a four-night run at the Jazz Bakery, she demonstrated some of the results of the new expansion of her musical horizons.

French songs such as “Sous Le Ciel De Paris” (Under Paris Skies) and “Ne Me Quitte Pas” (If You Go Away) are not exactly staples in the repertoire of most jazz singers. But that’s the sort of material--along with a broad selection of Brazilian songs--that dominated her set, with many of the tunes drawn from her new, multilingual album, “From Paris to Rio” (Concord).

While one may argue about the inherent jazz qualities of, say, Jacques Brel’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” Allyson’s interpretation effectively underscored the bittersweet melody and poignant lyrics with flowing, jazz ballad support. And if she occasionally overemphasized the dramatic qualities of her French-language rendering, her innate jazz skills almost always were predominant.


Understandably, the Brazilian numbers had a far more natural jazz compatibility. And her version of Jayme Da Silva’s “O Pato” (with English lyrics by Jon Hendricks) was a perfect blend of material and style. Allyson is fond of scat singing, but, like most jazz vocalists, her improvising tends to be riff-based and relatively lacking in harmonic complexity. A tune such as “O Pato,” however, with its rapid-patter melody, basic chords, quick tempo and comfortable acceptance of riffing, allowed her to do what she does best, and it was the highlight of her set.

More traditionally oriented jazz numbers--Clifford Brown’s “Joy Spring,” Duke Ellington’s “Azure” and the Robin-Rainger standard “If I Should Lose You”--were delivered with smoothly swinging confidence. Allyson’s pliable voice combines a rich textural range with the capacity to move quickly through even the most complex melodic twists and turns. And she knocked off “Joy Spring,” an essentially instrumental line, with almost flagrant ease.

Allyson was accompanied superbly by three Kansas City players--pianist Paul Smith, guitarist Danny Embrey and bassist Bob Bowman--and Los Angeles drummer Joe La Barbera. Their support was a vital element in her admirable efforts to explore new areas of jazz expression.

* Karrin Allyson at the Jazz Bakery through Saturday, at 8 and 9:30 p.m. $20 admission, 3233 Helms Ave., Culver City. (310) 271-9039.