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Originally published Friday, August 17, 2012 at 12:19 PM

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Karrin Allyson shows she's at the top of her game in Jazz Alley set

A review of jazz vocalist Karrin Allyson's Aug. 16, 2012, concert at Seattle's Jazz Alley.

Seattle Times jazz critic

Additional performances

Karrin Allyson

7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Dimitriou's Jazz Alley, 2033 Sixth Ave., Seattle; $24.50 (206-441-9729 or www.jazzalley.com).
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Karrin Allyson, who opened a four-night stand at Dimitriou's Jazz Alley Thursday with a delicious set, usually has a "hook" — a new album, new material, a change of direction, an award nomination.

That makes it easy for critics. But you know what? Allyson doesn't have a hook this time, and she doesn't need one. Unless it's this: She is hands-down one of the best vocalists in jazz, working at the very top of her game — "Right Here, Right Now," just like she says in the title of one of her original tunes. What more do you need to hear?

You know you're dealing with a pro when she sits down at the piano on opening night, totally relaxed and ready to roll, even though she's working with a band just put together for the gig: Portland drummer Todd Strait; Seattle bassist Jeff Johnson; and her longtime accompanist from Kansas City, guitarist Rod Fleeman.

Of course, Allyson has worked with all these guys before, and they're all pros, but they didn't just shuffle through the night. They found some magic.

Wearing a purple sleeveless top, tight black pants and strappy heels, the tall, pixie-coiffed singer began her show with a lush take on Bill Evans' pathos-filled lament, "Turn Out the Stars." Allyson's willowy, fetchingly hoarse alto wafted through the room like a robust perfume.

Paul Simon's winsome "April Come She Will" — like "Turn Out the Stars," on her most recent album, "'Round Midnight" — got a ripply, folksy reading, and Allyson snagged the angsty joie de vivre of Joni Mitchell's "All I Want," hanging it on a snappy, clanging piano riff.

Allyson was in a bluesy mood. The sexy Chris Caswell lyrics to Hank Mobley's snappy ditty, "Turnaround," were surely rattling around in a lot of heads long after the gig. Getting up from the piano, Allyson boogied in place as she wailed out the Bobby Timmons classic "Moanin'," tossing off crisp scat unisons with Fleeman's guitar.

Caswell's lovely lyrics shone again on Wayne Shorter's mysteriously enchanted blues "Footprints," with Allyson adding just the right inflection as the tune rose to its harmonically slinky turnaround.

Fleeman and Johnson engaged in a Bachlike, filigree exchange on Duke Ellington's luxurious ballad "Sophisticated Lady," and Allyson obliged the respectably ample weeknight audience before it could make a request — which it undoubtedly would have — with her perky, quirky version, in Portuguese, of the Brazilian novelty tune about a duck that appears to be dancing the samba, "O Pato."

"Frank Sinatra has 'My Way'; I have 'O Pato,' " she joshed good-naturedly about her most popular song.

Allyson said she spent the whole plane flight from New York listening to songs by bassist Jay Leonhart. She then graced the house with Leonhart's bittersweet, inquisitive "Robert Frost," which she recorded on her 1996 album "Collage."

I had never heard her sing it live. It was gorgeous. Maybe that was the hook.

As if she needed one.

Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or pdebarros@seattletimes.com

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