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 Sunday, 29 November 2015
From her "Yuletide Hideway" -- Karrin Allyson Celebrates the Holidays at the Dakota, December 22-23 PDF Print
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   
Friday, 20 December 2013

Karrin AllysonİAndrea Canter

A four-time Grammy nominee whose discography ranges from Paris to Rio, from ballads to blues, from upbeat swing to gloomy contemplation, Karrin Allyson finally put her talents as vocalist, songwriter, pianist and arranger into a Yuletide Hideway. It's a sharp 180-degree turn from her previous project, 2011's critically acclaimed Round Midnight, but may well generate at least as many accolades. As bright and homey as the last CD was dark and introspective, Yuletide Hideway offers a wide-ranging collection of popular tunes, less familiar covers and a handful of originals, all presented with Allyson's signature savvy and nuanced delivery. In time for the holidays, Karrin returns to one of her "home" bases, the Dakota, December 22-23, offering seasonal songs from the new recording as well as other favorites from her ever-expanding repertoire.

Yuletide Hideway (kasrecords, 2013)

Yuletide Hideaway
Allyson veers off the Concord label to produce Yuletide Hideway, realizing a long-time desire to record a set of holiday tunes. With her ever-faithful Kansas City rhythm team of guitarist Rod Fleeman, bassist Gerald Spaits and drummer Todd Straight, along with songwriter/keyboardist Chris Caswell and electric bassist Lee Sklar, the music was recorded coast to coast in studios from Hollywood to Kansas City to New York.

The title track kicks off the set, lyrics and music co-written by Allyson and Caswell and inspired by the holiday decor and activities at the Caswell home in Los Angeles. The band swings hard and the clever upbeat lyric about the internal, personal spirit of the holidays  ("It's right here where you are") might give the listener a most delightful ear worm. Caswell and his daughter Aubrey-- working off a class assignment at Berklee--wrote "Winter Oasis," sort of an updated "I'll Be Home for Christmas" theme with Fleeman doubling on bass and guitar and Karrin overdubbing harmonies. ("I just know she  [Aubrey] got an A for this little gem," says Karrin.)

Fleeman and Allyson penned "Christmas Bells Are Ringing," but you'll swear this is an old carol as it fits the season like a favorite old mitten.  Buoyed by organ, bass, drums and sleighbells, Karrin and Rod harmonize beautifully, and Karrin shows off her scatting chops. The other band original, Chris Caswell's "You're All I Need for Christmas" was originally set as a ballad, but Karrin notes that "we found it swings very nicely in 6." It's neverthess relatively slowly paced and delicate, waltzy and introspective.

Rod FleemanİAndrea Canter
The covers include a few never or seldom heard: One of Karrin's cohorts from her Omaha quartet, Daniel Cerveny wrote the lovely ballad, "This Time of Year." Perhaps most unexpected is a holiday song from the great Bill Evans, "It's Love, It's Christmas," which Karrin arranged and notes "is the only Bill Evans holiday song I know of." With Caswell on organ, Karrin bounces through the tune, adding a bit of quiet scat, while Fleeman adds a lushly swinging guitar interlude. The ex-wife of Minnesota jazz broadcasting legend Leigh Kamman, Patty McGovern wrote "I Like Snow," a carefree tune with Frishberg-esque lyrics, here arranged for organ, guitar, drums and sleigh bells. Notes Karrin, "I think it is a clever, sweet tune-- and I do like snow."

The remaining six tracks cover very familiar holiday terrain, and a lesser vocalist might be inclined to just glide through the tunes and lyrics. But Karrin gives each song her imprint: Karrin arranged and plays piano on "Winter Wonderland," giving the melody and lyric plenty of room at a mid-tempo swing.  "Let It Snow" finds Caswell leading an organ quartet, with Karrin taking some liberties with the melody by the second verse, breaking into a bright swinging scat that plays off Fleeman's guitar. This arrangement feels more like we're riding the sleigh rather than staying indoors. Playing piano with Fleeman, Spaits and Straight, Karrin makes sure we pay attention to Dave Frishberg's hip lyrics on "Snowbound," while she again is on the piano bench to interpret her "favorite sound - the sharp 11" on Vince Guaraldi's modern classic, "Christmas Time Is Here." With a gentle with a slightly ominous air from that sharp 11, Karrin's piano solo reminds us she that her talents soar well beyond singing.

Karrin AllysonİAndrea Canter
Without any keyboards, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" "swings nicely in 6... entreating us to enjoy the holidays,"  and that 6-beat adds a tropical propulsion. "Everybody's favorite" from a young Mel Tormé, "The Christmas Song" closes the album with Karrin at the piano, the chestnuts roasting, the "Kansas City" quartet (particularly Fleeman) patiently and sweetly moving ahead, on perhaps the most straightforward track of the set. Merry Christmas to you!

Karrin Allyson has certainly released more daring music over her career, but this is a perfect "home for the holidays" collection that offers just the right amount of tradition balanced against new and unexpected delights -- and that is what makes holidays memorable.

Karrin Allyson at the Dakota

Karrin returns to the Dakota as she tends to do every year, this time celebrating the holidays and Yuletide Hideaway with local pal Laura Caviani handling most of the piano duties. Two sets each night, December 22-23; reservations recommended!

The Dakota is located at 1010 Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis;

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