The lights inside Jardine’s dimmed slightly as people were still shuffling into their seats…
In the sold-out room, the wine flowed freely as the staff rushed between the tightly packed tables. It was just after 6:30 on a Monday night and Beena – the owner of this little jazz club situated on the end of the Plaza – was hustling, greeting patrons, and making sure everyone was in their proper place.
Several men in black fiddled with their instruments on the small stage. One set up a couple guitars, arranged a music stand. Another plucked and poked the thick strings on a stand-up bass. They looked experienced, their hands on auto-pilot, tuning and prepping.
On stage right sat a grand piano that filled half of the tiny stage. This is where renowned jazz singer Karrin Allyson would situate herself for most of the night…
Allyson took the stage a bit before 7:00 to a nice welcome that seemed bolstered by some old friends, maybe some that remembered the singer cutting her teeth playing the clubs in KC prior to her move to New York City. She smiled graciously but wasted no time with pleasantries before beginning with Harold Arlen’s "Loads of Lovely Love," following that up with Bill Evans’ "Turn Out the Stars."
Before even pausing to address the audience, Allyson was vamping on the piano, creating an arpeggio introduction that turned into a sweet version of Paul Simon’s "April Come She Will," which is recorded on her latest album, ‘Round Midnight. Allyson’s straight-forward singing style lent a simplicity to the classic ballad, which was the highlight of the first half of her show.
A few songs in it became apparent that one of those aforementioned men in black- guitarist Rod Fleeman– would make a run at stealing the show. He ghosted his way across the fret board providing a subtlety in his stroke and his finger picking that looked effortless and was absent of any percussive pluck. Fleeman rocked back and forth, flashing the occasional smile to no one in particular as he witnessed and created small musical moments that amused him. He finally opened it up even more on the fourth song of the night, offering a smooth buttery electric solo to accompany the bouncy walking bass line of Mose Allison’s "I Don’t Worry About a Thing."
The crowd took notice, and offered their hoots of approval and ample applause.
Allyson then introduced another player who took the stage, harmonica player and KC native, Randy Weinstein. He joined in on the rest of the songs, providing a nice texture that was at times horn-like, suggesting even a hint of clarinet or oboe.
As the set progressed the band seemed to loosen up little by little, and Allyson’s voice explored styles as varied as Brazilian bossa nova, pop, and straight-up blues, some with more success than others. Her delivery was consistently impressive in its ability to convey emotion while remaining markedly understated in its delivery. There was no belting it out here, no soaring or swooping.
On the title track to her latest album, "‘Round Midnight," communication between the band mates broke down a little and Allyson had to call out the change to keep everyone together. “That’s my fault, I’m sorry,” quipped a steadfast Allyson as she righted the ship mid-chord, steering the ensemble to the proper place from her seat behind the piano.
From that point on, the four person group seemed to focus their energies even more, as knowing nods and gestures accompanied each solo, bridge, and coda with Allyson leading the way. A steady groove settled in just as patrons neared the three-drink point.
Allyson seemed to relax a bit, too, as she refreshed her vocal cords with a sip of water.
“I like water,” she said. “But I prefer champagne…”
A couple standards later, the best song of the night, "Say It (Over And Over Again)," lilted softly around the room. A barely audible Fleeman again deftly soloed underneath Allyson’s smoky sweet vocals. She almost seemed to cringe in order to pull just the right emotion out of words that wouldn’t sound as weighty from a less experienced singer.
To end the night, Allyson took a request and performed "Autumn Leaves" as well as one of her own, a funny, gritty jazz number about making the most of a situation called "Right Here Right Now." The song summed up the down-but-never-ever-out sentiment that comes through in Allyson’s performances and recordings.
And judging by the mood of the room afterwards, I think that attitude rubbed off on the audience too.