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Karrin Allyson: Ballads: Remembering John Coltrane

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Here’s a singer who has mostly slipped past my radar. It won’t happen again. Allyson’s new CD is a very personal remembrance of the balladry of John Coltrane, sweetly reviving the memory of how in the midst of his most explorative period, J.C. paused to lay down his memorable Ballads date for Impulse!. Apparently among musicians he not only touched horn players, but at least one singer. There’s a lot of heart in how Allyson approaches this material, a sense of yearning that is quite intimate, right from her tender reading of “Say It (Over and Over Again)” that opens the date. There’s just a hint of Jeri Southern in her work.

Allyson isn’t entirely new to my ears, but it’s apparent with this disc that she’s gotten better and better with age, like all upper-echelon singers. Her phrasing is graceful, never rushed, and she makes fine use of space, allowing this music to breathe. Allyson makes a real investment in this material. There’s fragility, even vulnerability in her convergence with this material; try the opening phrases of “It’s Easy to Remember” for evidence. Allyson’s wordless “Naima” is delivered with a kind of quiet urgency, braced by a fine tenor solo by James Carter that recalls the spirit of its composer. “Everytime We Say Goodbye,” the closer, finds Allyson lagging a fraction of a step behind the rhythm section, lending further drama to her reading. All is not at slow tempo here, though: Witness her easy swing and scat solo on “All or Nothing at All.”