Following the presentation of a string of some of Broadway’s biggest names, with vocal power to match, the Cabaret at the Columbia Club has switched gears to mellow things out a bit as it closes off its 2014 winter/spring season with a series of jazz singers. Friday night it was vocalist and pianist Karrin Allyson, fresh off a “Newport Jazz Festival: Now 60 2014 Tour". Making her Cabaret debut accompanied by guitarist Rod Fleeman, Allyson appeared for the first of a two night engagement at the flourishing downtown Indianapolis nightspot.
Allyson, who grew up in Kansas, lives in New York City. Armed with a degree in classical piano performance, she started her career in Minneapolis. Later she moved to Kansas City, where she began her recording career with Concord Jazz, the label for which she has recorded 13 albums. Allyson is constantly on tour, has played all the major jazz festivals, performed in concert venues and clubs throughout the U.S. and has toured extensively all over the world.
Four-time Grammy Award nominee Allyson, whose repertoire is drawn from jazz, blues, bebop, samba and bossa nova genres and who sings in multiple languages, performed a set consisting of standards and songs from her many recordings, including a few of her originals.
“Loads of Love,” from the musical “No Strings” by Richard Rogers, was Allyson’s opening number. It quickly established that her interaction with virtuoso Fleeman on his electric Les Paul guitar would indeed be something really special for the remainder of the set. Together, the two artists, performing sophisticated arrangements, each with flawless intonation, created an atmosphere of intimacy in which those in the crowded room hung on every note and lyric of their music.
“This Happy Madness,” by Antonio Carlos Jobim, sung in Portuguese and English, illustrated Allyson’s ability to capture the romance and yearning inherent in the Brazilian’s composer’s music. Freed from the piano, holding a shaker while singing into a standing mic, Allyson’s interpretation of Jobim’s “My Little Boat” exuded a quiet, carefree elegance in her low key yet penetrating performance.
The bluesy “I Don’t Worry About a Thing,” which was a crowd favorite, revealed Allyson’s presumed straightforward attitude about life as much as her original song “Sweet Home Cookin’ Man” reflected a tongue in cheek, feminist-informed humor. Further establishing her blues credentials, Allyson sang “Some of My Best Friends Are the Blues,” after which she remarked “We love to sing the blues, we love to play the blues, but we don’t like to feel them.”
A highlight of the evening was Allyson, again sans piano, accompanied by Fleeman in their jaunty duet of “Sous le Ciel de Paris” (“Under Paris Skies”). Like Cyrille Aimée, the French jazz singer who appeared last week at the Cabaret, Allyson transported this writer to the City of Love on the Seine. Another was Gilberto’s novelty song “O Pato" ("The Duck), but in this instance it was Rio, the samba capital of the world, that was the imaginary destination.
Rather than choosing an upbeat tune for an encore, as often occurs, Allyson elected to sing an uncharacteristic Randy Newman blues song “Guilty” about an alcoholic/addict reaching out to his love. It was a curious choice but one that reinforced not only her focused musicianship but also her consummate talent as a story teller
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