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 Wednesday, 25 November 2015
Karrin Allyson Goes Back to Rio on Imagina PDF Print
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   
Saturday, 26 April 2008

Karrin Allyson

Karrin Allyson has always had a thing for the music of Brazil. Nearly every one of her 11 recordings has at least one tune sung in Portuguese. And every one of those Concord releases has garnered accolades from far and wide. On her latest, Imagina, Karrin mines new and old repertoire, this time singing in the composers' language on all fourteen tracks while bringing new interpretations through found and commissioned English lyrics to much of the set.

Karrin Allyson

Born in Kansas and raised in Omaha and San Francisco, Karrin Allyson studied classical piano before being turned on to jazz (and the songs of Nancy Wilson, Carmen McRae, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald) as a college student. After graduating from the University of Nebraska with a degree in piano, she spent her early professional career in Kansas City, finally moving to New York City with orchestra conductor/husband Bill McGlaughlin a few years ago. In addition to her frequent appearances in jazz clubs and festivals around the world, she has appeared at Carnegie Hall (tribute to Ella Fitzgerald), Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, and with symphony orchestras around the country, including the Carnegie Hall concert series at Zankel Hall. Recent tours have taken her to Japan and Israel; last month she was a featured guest honoring Marian McPartland on her 90th birthday—Karrin played several of McPartland’s compositions at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Since her first release, Karrin has made eleven recordings for Concord reflecting classic American jazz roots as well as French and Brazilian influences. In fact, her minor in college was French (her major was music), and her love of both French and Portuguese seeps into her live performances as well as recordings, most notably on From Paris to Rio and now on Imagina, released in February 2008. Her 2001 CD, Ballads: Remembering John Coltrane, was nominated for a Grammy (best female vocalist). Wild for You (2005), a tribute to the popular songs of her youth, garnered another Grammy nomination. “These are the songs I grew up with,” she said, “the songs that made me want to sing in the first place. Before I got into jazz, I studied classical piano. But when I became a teenager, I heard these songs, and they piqued my interest. I got the sheet music and learned to play them and pretty soon thought, ‘I'd like to do this for a living.’ ”

Footprints, released in 2006, brought Allyson back to the classic jazz literature. Working with lyricist Chris Caswell, classic jazz works by Nat Adderley, Hank Mobley, Wayne Shorter, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane and more were transformed into modern songs, along with contributions from Oscar Brown, Jr. and Jon Hendricks and guest tracks with Hendricks and Nancy King.


Karrin Allyson
Chris Caswell also plays an integral role on Allyson’s new recording. In addition to performing each of the 14 tracks of Imagina in Portuguese, Karrin wanted to be sure the music was accessible to those not familiar with the language. “I wanted folks to get these songs no matter what language they speak, while trying to remain as true to the Brazilian feel and sound as possible.” So she turned again to Chris Caswell. “I am delighted to be the first to record his new English lyrics to Vinicius de Moraes's ‘Medo de Amar’ (‘Surrender the Soul’) and Edu Lobo's ‘Pra Dizer Adeus’ (‘Time to Say Goodbye’). It's hard for me now to imagine these songs without his lyrics.” The new recording additionally includes English lyrics from the late Susannah McCorkle (“A Felicidade—Happiness” and “Vivo Sonhando—Living on Dreams”), John Hendricks (“Desafinado—Slightly Out of Tune”), Paul Williams (“Outono—Stay”) and Gene Lees (“Estrada Branca—This Happy Madness” and “Double Rainbow”).

Karrin also serves as co-producer and arranger or co-arranger for most tracks. Many of the musicians on Imagina are familiar for their past collaborations with Karrin, including Gil Goldstein on piano and accordion, Rod Fleeman on acoustic guitar, and Todd Strait on drums; also providing support are David Finck on acoustic bass, Steve Nelson on vibes, and Michael Spiro on Latin percussion.

In Jazz Times, Christopher Loudon describes Imagina as “among the best nods to Brazil ever crafted by an American singer.” And that is no easy feat, to communicate authenticity in lyric and emotion without the benefit of one’s native language. Many of the tracks find Karrin covering the original Portuguese first, followed by an English lyric (that sequence is reversed to good effect on “Desafinado”); sometimes the security of her linguistic comfort zone gives more power to the English (as on “Medo de Amar” where the instrumental backing has a quaint, old world feel), yet on other tracks her Portuguese speaks to English ears as effectively as our native tongue. On the Jobim/Moraes “O Morro Nao Tem Vez (Favela),” enhanced by Nelson’s upbeat vibes, the joy comes through in Allison’s lyric, even if we can’t translate it.

The translation of lyric from one language to another can also bring new meaning to a tune. On another Jobim/Moraes masterpiece, “Estrada Branca (This Happy Madness),”

Gene Lees has translated a song of longing into a sweeter romance, one of the highlights of the recording. The slow pace and pared down instrumental of piano, bass and drums allow a tighter focus on the voice, while Lees’ words provide a greater feeling of hope than what one perceives in the initial Portuguese; a “touch of sadness” is conveyed through David Finck’s bass solo. But it’s Karrin’s phrasing, hesitations, and elongations that make “This Happy Madness” succeed, those signature characteristics that make Allyson one of the premiere singers and interpreters of our time.

The original lyrics flow comfortably on “Desafinado (Slightly Out of Tune)”, but secondary to the English version penned by Jon Hendricks, who transformed the Jobim standard from a song about off-key singers to one about the slightly “out of tune” nature of love. Arranged by Karrin and husband Bill McGlaughlin, Nelson’s vibes propel this track, which finds Allyson’s interpretative voice at its best. Her most affecting performance, however, maybe on “Pra Dizer Adeus (Time to Say Goodbye),” a beautifully haunting tune by Edu Lobo with original lyrics from a suicide note from Torquato Neto, reinvented in English by Chris Caswell. Supported primarily by guitar and accordion, Karrin is aching, resigned in either language; Gil Goldstein’s accordion provides the perfect counterpoint to voice. And as well crafted as are the English lyrics, here Karrin’s Portuguese has more emotional impact.

The remaining tracks offer many delights: The opening “A Felicidade (Happiness)” from Black Orpheus is a swinging samba; “Correntenza” features the rhythmic drive of guitarist Ron Fleemans, Nelson’s marimba and some ambient bird chirps; “So Tinha de Ser Com Voce” again finds Fleemans leading with some twisty soloing and duo duty with Karrin; Rosa Passos’ “Outuno (Stay)” is one of the most satisfying instrumentally, simply a trio with guitar, bass and drums, while “Double Rainbow” maintains this simplicity while adding Karrin on piano; the title track, the first song composed by Jobim, highlights the sensual pairing of vibes and accordion; “Vivo Sonhando” finds Karrin and Fleemans in a scatted duet before launching into Susannah McCorkle’s English lyric; “Estrada del Sol” again features Karrin on piano with bass, vibes and accordion—no percussion on this track which seems to bring greater focus to her voice; and the joyous funky finale, Pedro Caetano’s “E Com Esse Que Eu Vou” begs you to stand up and dance.

Imagina should be regarded among Karrin Allyson’s strongest recordings, which include some very powerful statements—Wild For You, Footprints, Ballads, In Blue. She can win you over in any language.

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