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Karrin Allyson: In Blue

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As jazz career arcs go, few have been as progressively satisfying as Karrin Allyson’s. Building, slowly and methodically, from the raw promise of her 1992 debut, I Didn’t Know About You, to the cross-cultural dynamism of 1999’s From Paris to Rio, Allyson has grown bolder, braver and more easily experimental with each new step. Last year’s Grammy-nominated Coltrane tribute, Ballads, was the clincher. Ballads’ sage self-assurance at last earned Allyson her rightful place among the vocal elite. Her subsequent release, In Blue, serves simply to cement her exalted status.

This is less a blues album than it is a blues-tinted jazz outing. It’s a subtle but important differentiation, for it is Allyson’s keen jazz instincts that add a fresh, and oft-times dazzling, luster to the 13 gems collected here. Allyson’s gorgeous voice has long been shaded with a subtle hint of ennui. It’s a quality that serves her well throughout In Blue, particularly when she’s plumbing the depths of Mose Allison’s deftly self-pitying “Moanin'” or mining the richly shaded melancholy of Bobby Troup’s “The Meaning of the Blues.” Tackling a pair of Oscar Brown treasures, she simmers the usually peppier “Long As Your Livin'” with a slightly jaded joie de vivre, then fuels “Hum Drum Blues” with a steely tenacity that belies the lyric’s inherent fatalism. Elsewhere, Allyson effectively balances the dusky sterility of Joni Mitchell’s “Blue Motel Room” with the icy smugness of “Evil Gal Blues” and the sapphire clarity of “How Long Has This Been Going On?”

If there’s a quibble to be made, it’s the seeming incongruity of her overly buoyant “West Coast Blues.” Otherwise, In Blue adds considerable depth and breadth to Allyson’s already vivid palette.