Arts & Culture » Theater Critic's Choice

Karrin Allyson

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Now that the word "jazz" has lost the opprobrium it carried in the 60s and 70s, everyone wants a piece of it, from dance bands to new-age pianists to singers trying to prop up their careers by basking in the tradition of Billie, Ella, and Sarah. So the Kansas City vocalist Karrin Allyson, making her Chicago debut this weekend, could conceivably get lost in this fast shuffle of jazz wannabes--that is, unless you've ever heard her. Allyson has just about the whole package. She can scat, playing her voice like a piano (her first instrument); she offers up indelible paraphrase (improvising on the melody while retaining the lyrics); and her interpretations range from introspective but unsentimental ballads to giddy Brazilian-flavored arrangements of jazz standards. There's nothing traditionally "beautiful" about Allyson's husky (at times nearly hoarse) voice, but I find it irresistible all the same, with a raspy edge that carries a warm and unpretentious welcome. Her voice seems to smile, and this tomboy quality carries over to her phrasing, with its lighthearted sense of adventure: singing right on and even just ahead of the beat, she conveys an unmistakable vitality at every tempo. You can trust her instincts, too--of her two albums on Concord Records, Allyson produced the first, and while it has a few more valleys than the second, it also has plenty more dizzying heights. Her performance is cosponsored by WBEZ FM, which employs this writer. Saturday, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 878-5552.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Kilgore.

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