Round Midnight is Karrin Allyson's first album of new material since 2008's Imagina: Songs of Brasil, and it has been worth the wait.
Well up to the high standards set by previous CDs - with three receiving Grammy nominations for best vocal jazz album - Round Midnight has no overarching concept unlike several previous projects. But it does include tunes from the repertoire of pianist Bill Evans, including the opening track, a lovely version of his Turn Out the Stars. Other featured composers range from Charlie Chaplin and Anthony Newley to Duke Ellington, Stephen Sondheim, Johnny Mandel and Paul Simon.
This is an intimate, ballad-based late-night set on which Allyson (right) handles keyboards as well as vocals, Rod Fleeman plays the guitars, Ed Howard is on bass, Matt Wilson on drums, and Bob Sheppard contributes tenor and soprano saxophones, alto flute and some bass clarinet.
Randy Weinstein contributes some sympathetic and imaginative playing to Chaplin's Smile and Ellington's Sophisticated Lady. But the album's tour de force is a simple bass and vocal duet on Thelonious Monk's title track.
Here, Allyson's vocal cuts right to its melancholy heart, and Howard's bass strips the changes back to their deep blues roots. This is a fine vocal jazz album, on which Allyson concentrates on her interpretative skills rather than her proven virtuosity. It is a highly enjoyable set.
Meanwhile, Grappa's Cellar is heading into the summer with a solid programme of live jazz, including an appearance on Saturday by Allen Youngblood and his Kinetic Soundscapes band. There are also two performances on June 22 and 23 by the great American saxophonist Ernie Watts.
This is the second appearance of Kinetic Soundscapes with one modification in the line-up. When it made its debut at Grappa's Cellar last October, Charles Huntley played saxophone. This time Blaine Whittaker replaces him in the quintet, which otherwise comprises Eugene Pao on guitar, Paul Candelaria on bass, Robbin Harris on drums and Youngblood on keyboards.
Three other albums by Karrin Allyson are well worth checking out. Ballads: Remembering John Coltrane (Concord, 2001): this 2002 tribute to Coltrane was inspired by his 1962 album of the same name, and features the same songs, plus three bonus tracks including his lovely composition, Naima. It earned a 2002 Grammy nomination.
Footprints (Concord, 2006): notwithstanding the prominent presence of guest vocalists Nancy King and Jon Hendricks, this is Allyson's show, and she performs tunes by Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and Wayne Shorter among others. These include Shorter's title track. It's among the finest vocal jazz albums so far released this century.
By Request (Concord, 2009): a good representative selection of Allyson's work for the Concord label, which owns her entire discography to date.