Mark Heard It First

Alyssa Allgood Strides in the Front Door Like She Owns the Place

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Out of the Blue – Alyssa Allgood

“Watch Me Walk Away,” the opening cut of Alyssa Allgood’s release “Out of the Blue” kicks off with eight solidly grooving bars with Dan Chase on organ, Tim Fitzgerald on guitar and Matt Plaskota on drums. Allgood comes in with her original lyric to Hank Mobley’s “Dig Dis” from his 1960 Blue Note release “Soul Station,” striding in through the front door like she owns the place. I immediately thought of Annie Ross, and not because I felt Allgood was being derivative. When I think of a female vocalist who can swing as hard as her band, and write lyrics that illuminate and don’t obscure, I think of Annie Ross. Allgood does have a somewhat similar sound at times – a little throaty, playful, naturally musical – and yet this is clearly a self-possessed singer who is not self-consciously channeling the past.

A take on Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice,” titled “Noticing the Moment” follows, with Chris Madden on sax and Allgood doing some dreamy riffing at the top. Allgood wisely slows the tempo down to accommodate the understated Latin feel and her uncontrived lyrics. Chase on organ and Fitzgerald on guitar add a nicely arranged and executed duet on a line that ushers in the solos, which echoes pianist Kenny Drew on the original 1957 recording.

Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn’s “It’s You or No One” follows. It’s a straight ahead, lightly swinging standard that gives Allgood a chance to stretch out and showcase her excellent scatting skills. Allgood gives drummer Matt Plaskota a chance to shine, and he delivers a deft, lovely drum break with brushes and some tasteful accents on the kick.

Allgood’s take on Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil” opens with a rubato vocal and organ intro before it kicks into a nice groove, matching the tempo of the original Blue Note recording. Writing lyrics to such a recognizable jazz anthem can be dangerous. But, as in all of her vocalese work here, Allgood is up to the task. Her words don’t in any way trivialize the iconic original Wayne Shorter recording.

Sam River’s lovely “Beatrice” lends itself beautifully to the Allgood approach. Once again she matches the tempo of the original and the handles the rangy melodic line with ease.

Allgood sings Horace Silver’s own lyrics to his composition “Peace.” She opens the song simply with the very sensitive accompaniment of Tim Fitzgerald on guitar. The organ, bass and drums kick in on the second verse, adding that familiar sweet, classic, evocative and relaxed jazz ballad pulse. Allgood’s approach is plaintive, unforced, and sincere. Her phrasing is superior to that of the generally superb Norah Jones, who released her version in 2002.

“If” by Joe Henderson follows. Once again, Allgood displays impressive scatting chops, cooking right along with the vigor and energy of the original.

A nice contrast is Lee Morgan’s “Ceora,” which she calls “Only A Memory.” Her clear, perfectly pitched voice makes a nice duet with Organ on a line that acts as a kind of interlude.

On “Moanin’” she sings the lyrics that Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross recorded, giving it a distinctive, underlying funk/shuffle treatment. She expertly trades fours with saxophonist Chris Madden before the piece shifts smoothly into a medium swing, and she takes it to another level with nicely composed unison lines sung with voice and sax. The group shifts back into the funk groove to close out the tune. This is tasty stuff, and a really pleasing reconfiguration of a jazz vocalese classic.

Keeping good time separates the “haves” from the “have nots” in jazz. This is as true for vocalists as it is for instrumentalists. Allgood has no trouble with a 7/4 meter on the Joe Chambers tune “Mirrors.”

Overall the packaging is a little dark, but the banner title on the front does give a nod to the iconic Blue Note label, which was of course the inspiration for this wonderfully realized project. I do appreciate the clear photos of all the musicians, including Allgood. This is so obviously a heartfelt collaboration, it is nice to see that reflected in the packaging.

This is a very impressive record by a serious singer who also knows how to have fun. It was fun to review because it brought me back to some wonderful Blue Note recordings that I had not listened to for some time, and in the case of Horace Silver’s “Peace,” had not even heard. As I referenced the original recordings with Allgood’s interpretations, I was impressed with her ability to reimagine these songs and at the same time capture the spirit of the originals. Adding new lyrics to classic jazz instrumental recordings is not for the faint of heart. Allgood seems to have it figured out. She has a solid musician’s self confidence, and a clear, healthy sounding voice with a lilting, pleasantly natural vibrato that often sneaks in at the ends of phrases. She is never over shadowed by her outstanding instrumentalists. She is one of the cats. I think that is something that Annie Ross herself would respect and appreciate. And that, my fellow lovers of song, is high praise indeed.

Recorded by Vijay Tellis-Nayak at Transient Recording Studio, Chicago
Mixed by Brain Schwab and Vijay Tellis-Nayak
Mastered by Brian Schwab
Production assistance by Jon Deitemyer
Photography by Ron Perillo
Design by Chad McCullough