Karrin Allyson: I Cover the Waterfront

Allyson emerged in the '90's as a jazz singer with a soft, unassuming voice, substantial paraphrase and scatting abilities, and a wide-ranging taste in songs. Her voice seemed to develop an even more consistent bottom and better-controlled vibrato as the years went by, but she was hip and swinging from day one. On Allyson's second CD, Sweet Home Cookin'," she also took total advantage of Alan Broadbent's expert piano accompaniment and arrangements.

Why so many vocalists (including Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan) omit the wonderful scene-setting verse to "I Cover the Waterfront" is a mystery. Allyson sings it movingly and evocatively: "Away from the city that hurts and knocks, I'm standing alone by the desolate docks...." She renders the chorus just as stirringly, with a quaver in her voice that conveys all the "hoping and longing." Broadbent's support and solo spot are, as usual, lucid and incisive. Allyson's closing treatment of the bridge and then chorus raises the emotional level, as she unleashes the full—and perhaps surprising—power of her persuasive voice, and the horns' obbligatos add even greater depth to her mesmerizing storytelling.

May 15, 2009 · 0 comments


Art Tatum: I Cover the Waterfront

Art Tatum covers the whole keyboard, as well as the waterfront, on this bravura ballad. The late 1940s were a fertile period for Tatum. He was at the peak of his abilities and had a seemingly endless variety of piano tricks up his sleeves. He follows his usual formula here, playing the opening chorus out of tempo, then slipping into a steady stride at the midpoint of his journey. But even if his approach is tried and true, the song never gets boring when Tatum is running the show. I especially like the harmonic games he plays here, with passing chords and substitute changes to beat the band. Well, there was no band to beat, since the band beat it when they saw Tatum walk into the studio. But Tatum alone is band enough for me any day.

May 10, 2008 · 0 comments


Henry 'Red' Allen & Coleman Hawkins: I Cover the Waterfront

"In 1957, [Henry 'Red' Allen] made a startling recording for Victor," Whitney Balliett wrote of this session. "It included several long ballads, and Allen converted each into a massive lullaby." But don't let this lullaby put you to sleep -- you might miss one of the finest trumpet solos of the decade. Allen shows how to craft a complete musical statement on the horn, each phrase developing a story, without wasted energy or empty pyrotechnics. Allen had learned his craft on the riverboats with Fate Marable, and assimilated the Great Leap Forward signaled by Louis Armstrong in the 1920s; but he was still raising the level of his game during the Eisenhower years. One even hears faint echoes of Miles Davis and the 1950s cool school in this gently ambling improvisation. And then Allen invites Coleman Hawkins to join in on tenor. Can you get too much of a good thing? Listen to it once, and then listen to it all over again. Then -- and only then -- is it time for bed.

November 26, 2007 · 0 comments


Lester Young: I Cover the Waterfront (1946, take two)

Musically, Lester Young was Coleman Hawkins in a funhouse mirror. The stolid muscleman, taking a break from harmonic weightlifting to admire his brawny reflection, sees instead a lithe minimalist doing tai chi. More conceptualist than technician, Pres liked to "tell a little story" instrumentally. "Lester sings with his horn," remarked his pal Billie Holiday. "You listen to him and can almost hear the words." Here he waits alone at the edge of the sea, scanning the horizon for his intended's return. That much is in the song. The melancholy wisdom that hoping will not make it so is in Lester's horn.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments


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