In 2001 Kansas City jazz singer Karrin Allyson set a gold standard for her generation of vocalists. Ballads: Remembering John Coltrane is the kind of record you'd expect from a Sarah Vaughan or a Carmen McRae, not a blond Midwestern babe who, in the '80s, fronted a chick-rock band called Tomboy. Around ingenuous, uncluttered arrangements, Allyson's paradoxically cool-but-warm, erotic-but-stately voice cancels the mortally boring combat between traditionalists and the avant-garde. For Coltrane, as for any major jazz artist, free expression was a sensual means to a spiritual end. On her neo-samba reading of "Naima," Allyson blows away new-age piety with pure sound and wordless sighs. On the more recent album Wild For You, on the other hand, Allyson transforms a soul-curdling list of covers (tunes by such auteurs as Cat Stevens, James Taylor and Elton John) by scatting, crooning, trilling and moaning with the inspiration of the elect, like she can find that divine musical place just by drawing a breath. And she can.
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