Alyssa Allgood. Exactly Like You. Cellar Music, 2018.
Alyssa Allgood, Vocal
Dan Chase, Hammond B-3
Kyle Asche, Guitar
Greg Artry, Drums
After gaining attention via a series of competitions and an exceptionally good, independently-produced album, Alyssa Allgood has slowly crafted a place in the deteriorating list of creative jazz singers. Many “jazz singers” ride the tightrope between jazz and pop (with pop almost always winning), and with only one possible exception on her new album Exactly Like You, Allgood avoids that trap, creating fresh approaches to old tunes that satisfy in every way.
The exceptional post-bop swing on her Out of the Blueand the subsequent organic groove of this new one is really a result of teamwork, Allgood paired with life partner B-3 artist Dan Chase. Chase, along with Kyle Asche on guitar and Greg Artry on drums, wields his keyboards and arrangement savvy in grand support of this young, fresh voice. The production values are as pleasing here as on Out of the Blue, fashioning a very balanced trip through eight standards, one attempted new standard, and two originals.
Right off the bat, Allgood and Chase prance through the title cut, with Allgood singing Jon Hendricksesque bursts of syllables before gliding into a wonderfully swinging scat solo. Recorded like a live set, Artry gets to warm up with a solo of his own that serves as an introduction to Allgood’s organic approach to performance—she clearly cares about the band as much as her singing. This is followed by Lee Morgan’s “Hocus Pocus,” which also begins with a flurry of notes before landing softly into swing, again accentuated by an Allgood scat that proves, methinks, that, for her, breathing and scatting are done with equal facility.
Then…a good try. “Rock with You” is placed between “Hocus Pocus” and another exceptional jazz performance on Monk’s “Ask Me Now,” making the Michael Jackson tune a pop-on-wry sandwich. Allgood clearly enjoys this song, but I didn’t quite hear the same level of jazz embellishment I hear on all the other songs. It’s a very tight performance highlighted by an organ flourish from Chase with Asche’s deft support. This version is growing on me, but still. Other ears can disagree.
Allgood gets back to more creative vocal interpretation on “Ask Me Now.” After the prelude, the group settles into a blues ballad, with Allgood morphing into a higher-pitched Dinah Washington…oh my, this is my new favorite version! Asche gets his first solo and adroitly comments on the theme.
Another nice Chase/Asche moment occurs on “By My Side,” the first of two Allgood-Chase originals. Then Stevie Wonder’s “If It’s Magic” receives the most progressive performance on this album, with Chase playing with almost gospel fervor, both in support of the alluring Allgood but also in his gonzo solo that digs deep.
I was originally cringing when the umpteenth version of “Alone Together” was listed, but, again, Allgood pulls it off, starting with a scat before pushing the melody and the pace into fourth gear. Asche proves his worth with a scat-like solo that is followed by Allgood’s own—fast, slow, whatever, this lady is a pro. The band has no problem carrying her down the freeway, punctuated by another driving Artry solo ride.
“Waltzy,” the second original piece, is pretty much what the title suggests. Like “By My Side,” the song celebrates the joy of love and companionship, be it from a lover or from (according to Howard Mandel’s informative liner notes) a beloved pet. Again, Chase and Asche pair up for a tasty instrumental repast. Chase’s new arrangement of “Darn That Dream” takes a bit of irony out of the original as Allgood reveals its emotional center, giving the band a chance to express itself more directly, including a powerful pounding from Artry.
Then, “Yardbird Suite 5,” the capper of this stellar collection. While I am not sure what the “5” suggests, what I hear is Allgood and her band making this classic their own expression. Allgood’s relaxed, succinct crooning—as a distinct counterpoint to Charlie Parker’s vigorous original--evinces the varying timbres of her delivery, but almost without effort. Perfect.
Without trying to be a homer, I suggest that Exactly Like Youmay be the vocal album of the year (with Cecile’s and Erin McDougald’s records the only real competitors). Alyssa Allgood is the real deal, and the band she sings with is a terrific match. One hopes she and they get the exposure and support they deserve.