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This Time on EARS NEW YORK, Jeff reviews Pat Metheny's current record 'What's It All About' and Karrin Allyson's 'Round Midnight'


What’s It All About

With What's It All About (a title owing to the fertile minds of Burt Bacharach and Hal David), Pat Metheny lays bare the evidence for a compelling discussion: Is he the most thoughtful jazz guitarist of our generation? Could very well be.

Best heard as a companion record to One Quiet Night, Metheny's 2003 collection of solo acoustic meditations, What's It All About traverses similar stylistic territory, though it delivers more.

Relying heavily on a baritone guitar, distinctively tuned, he shuns original compositions for this record - a first in his career. Rather, he expands and reimagines the definition of the jazz songbook by examining tunes drawn from the AM/FM radio of his youth. (He's 56.)

The result fortifies or emboldens tunes originating with the baby boomers who emerged at the close of World War II, the creators and consumers of culture whose influence on popular music was massive. These songs mean much to Metheny, quite obviously - "The Sounds of Silence," "Pipeline, "Betcha By Golly, Wow," "Rainy Days and Monday," "Cherish," "Alfie" (whose opening lyric titles this record).

In sum we’re treated to strong melodies and rich harmonies - refracted, molded, newly invented. This most thoughtful guitarist caresses all, sharing his intimate miniatures.

What's It All About is the question. It is also the music of life and breath, the sound of Pat Metheny’s gorgeous quest for answers.

‘Round Midnight

Drawing from a similarly quiet place, Karrin Allyson’s latest is a soulful offering boasting echoes of vulnerability. ‘Round Midnight is a production decidely spare and unadorned. It is the musical equivalent of “Nighthawks,” Edward Hopper’s timeless canvas depicting diners lost in their own thoughts.

Over a span of 11 tunes, Allyson paints her own picture, applying a moody wash to works by Steven Sondheim (“Send In The Clowns”), Bill Evans (“Turn Out The Stars”), Duke Ellington (“Sophisticated Lady”), Paul Simon (“April Come She Will”) and Thelonious Monk (the title track).

It is a dreamy and romantic survey, meticulously crafted. Allyson’s individual essays are threaded by a haunting air of longing, detailed and nuanced by her vocal shadings and piano play.

This may be key to the album’s overall feel – Allyson’s acoustic and electric keyboards, which she handles exclusively. As a result she actuates the subtle shifting of moods smartly - waxing bittersweet or sensuous, plaintive or etheral. Her piano accompaniment unifies all. It is a controlled performance, assisted by guitarist Rod Fleeman, saxophonist Bob Sheppard, harmonicat Randy Weinstein, bassist Ed Howard and drummer Matt Wilson.

Is Karrin Allyson world-weary, a somber observor commenting on life and love? Perhaps so, but viewed otherwise she is experienced and knowing, deliberate and brave, a most accomplished jazz singer. “Round Midnight is a vocal record distinguished by its own design and execution. As she confesses in song, Allyson is “always chasing rainbows.” This disc is the pot of gold.


Jeff Levenson is a label executive, writer-producer, and jazz journalist. His affiliations include posts at Half Note, Sony, Warner Bros, Downbeat and Billboard. He currently produces the annual Thelonious Monk Instrumental Competition, and has authored and/or produced events for the NEA, the US State Department, the White House, the New School for Social Research and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. His credits include collaborations with Michael Brecker, Herbie Hancock, Branford Marsalis, Bela Fleck, Arturo Sandoval, and McCoy Tyner. He has produced and/or supervised six Grammy albums - 2 winners, 4 nominees. He currently chairs the National Jazz Committee for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, serves as Board Governor for its New York Chapter, and digs the company of jazz musicians.

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