November • December 2018 • Issue 381, In Its 44th Year of Publishing
On the performance of the Johnny Mercer-Hoagy Carmichael standard, “Skylark” that opens this album one is struck by the command and presence of Aimée Allen along with the strong backing from bassist Francois Moutin (who has been playing with her for sometime), pianist Billy Test and drummer Kush Abadey.
She sings with clarity and on pitch, has a pretty wide vocal range while making subtle timbre changes as well as a phrasing that displays a strong sense of dynamics. Most importantly she simply has a lovely voice. The accompaniment is solid and there are imaginative solos from pianist Test (with his judicious use of dissonant chords) and bassist Moutin. “Skylark” is one of the six songs she provides fresh interpretations of and she herself has contributed five originals. “Skylark” is followed by her original “Shooting Star,” a love song with bassist Moutin providing the only accompaniment for the first verse. It is a good introduction to her gifts as a songwriter, not simply a singer and once again Test and Moutin solo while Abadey colors the performance with rhythmic accents.
This writer is most familiar with instrumental renditions of “Invitation,” Allen does a marvelous job in delivering Paul Francis Webster’s lyrics as she sings about someone being a great temptation. There is a strong bass solo on this. The pace slows down for “In My Web,” a moody and dark ballad performance. Of her originals, perhaps the most remarkable one is a topical song, “Democracy How (Harmony And Dissonance),” with its call of action, asking how we can participate in a system when truth is ridiculed and divisions weaken the common ground we share. She sings movingly about false stories set forth to deceive and divide, about that he need for individual and collective action because democracy is on the line. There is splendid rendering of Jobim’s “Fotografia,” sung both in Portuguese and English with just piano and bass accompaniment, as well as a marvelous duet with just Moutin’s accompaniment on “Autumn Leaves / Les Feuilles Mortes,” sung first in French and then English with her phrasing perhaps the most horn-like of the entire recording. On sublime covers of Buddy Johnson’s classic ballad, “Save Your Love For Me,” and “Midnight Sun,” Abadey also sits out while Test plays with restrained elegance.
This is my first exposure to Aimée Allen, although it is apparently her fifth album. She definitely impressed this listener with some superb singing and material with first-rate backing.