Jazz singing must be a difficult field to work in. With so many amazing past vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Rosemary Clooney, Nancy Wilson, Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington, inevitable comparisons are drawn to those masters who defined eras and styles by their unique vocal signatures. So singers like Karrin Allyson are up against some very steep competition and I imagine they get tired of critics who tie their styles to those who left giant footprints before them. Unfortunately, I have to be one of those critics and place Allyson in a head-to-head bout with one of the champion jazz singers, Rosemary Clooney.
That’s not really a bad match. Clooney was an extraordinarily gifted stylist, and Allyson sounds a great deal like Clooney. It’s hard to know if this is purposeful – certainly Allyson can’t change the voice she’s been given very much, and with a voice as full and clear as Allyson’s is, why would she want to? Yet, Allyson’s approach is certainly similar to Clooney’s and that is something completely within her control. In this respect, the 13 tracks on Footprints can’t help but put the listener in touch with the spirit of Clooney rather than marvel at Allyson’s tremendous vocal abilities.
Admittedly, I like Allyson’s slightly worn, crackled voice and even when she sings and scats with guest vocalist Nancy King, she does some marvelous work. And I also appreciated her versions of transformed jazz instrumental standards, to which lyricist Chris Caswell has made some very creative contributions. But it was extremely difficult for me to distinguish where Clooney leaves off and Allyson begins. Stylistically, Allyson uses much of the same phrasing as Clooney and in that choice, much of what’s here sounds more like a tribute rather than an earnest solo effort, which Allyson certainly deserves to make.
Jon Hendricks is featured on tracks “Strollin’” and on “Everybody’s Boppin’”, a song that Allyson, King and Hendricks have a great deal of fun. As for King, she is as good as ever, singing and scatting on “Life Is a Groove”. Her voice is in fine form. My only complaint is that some of the tracks are too short; some extended solos would have been welcomed, especially from the excellent back up of Bruce Barth on piano and Fender Rhodes, Peter Washington on bass, Todd Strait on drums and the cameo work by Frank Wess playing tenor sax on “Lightning” and “I Can’t Say Teaneck”, and Nick Phillips playing trumpet on “All You Need to Say”.
Even though Allyson is stylistically tied the Clooney’s legendary vocals, Footprints is still worth several listens by those who love female jazz singers. While Allyson may not have reached the pantheon of vocalists listed above, she shows great love and care for her craft, and at times she can belt out a tune with the best of them. With a little more originality, Allyson might just make that list of legends yet.