JAZZ: Karrin Allyson fares better at the microphone than the piano

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Howard Reich:  The pleasant, thoroughly intelligent, often-engaging, sometimes frustrating show set that Karrin Allyson played Friday night at the Green Mill Jazz Club started out strongly and ended that way, too.

In between, it lost some steam when Allyson headed to the piano to accompany herself. A voice as distinctive and a stage presence as strong as hers deserve a far higher caliber of jazz pianism than she was able to produce. That's not so surprising, in that effective jazz vocalists who play piano as well as they sing are not plentiful (though one of them, Patricia Barber, shows how it's done every Monday night on the same stage).

That said, Allyson presented herself well, at least vocally, before a large audience she has developed through two decades of annual engagements at the Mill. It's not difficult to understand why listeners turn out to hear her, for beyond the endearing quality of her voice – a honeyed tone that sounds like no one else's – Allyson makes the most of every note she sings. There are no glib gestures, no perfunctory turns of phrase, no throwaway lines. She performs everything with welcome intensity.

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