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A bittersweet Kansas City homecoming concert for jazz singer Karrin Allyson

Jazz singer and Great Bend, Kan., native Karrin Allyson performed Friday at the Folly Frolic, a benefit concert for the Folly Kids’ Series.
Jazz singer and Great Bend, Kan., native Karrin Allyson performed Friday at the Folly Frolic, a benefit concert for the Folly Kids’ Series. Special to the Star

Karrin Allyson’s homecoming concert at the Folly Theater on Friday was bittersweet. She was clearly pleased to be among many longtime friends, but Allyson was also mourning the death of a member of Kansas City’s jazz community as well as the passing of an international legend.

About 600 people attended the terse 80-minute benefit concert for the Folly Kids Series.

Born in Great Bend, Kan., in 1963, Allyson rose to prominence from her base in Kansas City in the 1990s. While she’s no longer as fashionable as artists like Cecile McLorin Salvant, the young jazz vocalist who will perform at the Folly Theater on Dec. 10, Allyson is a consistently interesting and admirably creative artist.

Ron Ubel, a man who played a role in Allyson’s ascent, died earlier in the week.

“I did five CDs here in Kansas City and they were all engineered by Ron Ubel,” Allyson said.

She dedicated a rendition of “I Didn't Know About You” to Ubel. The gentle elegy featured a flugelhorn solo by Stan Kessler, a guest artist that Allyson correctly noted “has such a beautiful sound.”

Her core band was just as graceful. Miro Sprague, a pianist Allyson met near her new home in Massachusetts who was making his Kansas City debut, was the only outsider. Kessler, guitarist Rod Fleeman, drummer Todd Strait and bassists Bob Bowman and Gerald Spaits reside in the Kansas City area.

Allyson also paid tribute to Mose Allison with penetrating versions of a pair of compositions by the storied jazz artist who died Nov. 15. She indignantly belted out the line “everybody’s crying ‘justice’ just as long as it’s business first” on “Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy.” An interpretation of the cynical “I Don’t Worry About a Thing” was just as impassioned.

A dexterous vocalist, Allyson sang the Allison material with irascible grit and applied sanguine assurance to “Sous le Ciel de Paris.” Like Allyson, Bowman seems to be improving with age. The bassist stood out among the masterly accompanists. The high ceilings and pristine sound field transformed the tone of his instrument from an indeterminate pulse to a multi-dimensional dynamo. Bowman may never have sounded better.

Gale Tallis, the venue’s executive director, mistakenly introduced Allyson as the recipient of five Grammy Awards. Allyson gently noted that she was merely nominated for the honors. Even so, Friday’s undeniably triumphant performance didn’t require any outside validation.

Set list

Happy Talk; Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy; Sous le Ciel de Paris; I Didn’t Know About You; Home; Are You Happy Now; Wrap Up Some of That Sunshine; As Long As I Know You Love Me; Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’; You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught; Robert Frost; I Don’t Worry About a Thing; Nature Boy

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