With all of our contemporary jazz heroines--Diana Krall, Norah Jones, Holly Cole, Patricia Barber, Karin Allyson and the incomparable Cassandra Wilson--it's tempting to wonder which is the most qualified to take in our hard-earned bucks.
For our money, one female jazz singer who warrants more attention, and maybe a little of our disposable income, is the pitch-perfect Jackie Allen, a Wisconsin native and daughter of a Dixieland tuba player, who lives and works in Chicago.
Allen's sterling second album, Love Is Blue, is a totally reliable CD that potentially will appeal both to the adventurous listener and to those who like something a little familiar. It takes risks but is comfortably lush. It can lull you into a state of cocktail-lounge relaxation and then perk you up with an unconventional arrangement or galloping rock guitar solo.
Allen has a terrific, unerringly pure soprano that she never allows to quaver in embarrassing fashion or slip into the indulgence of effulgent melisma and trilling. And she can swing! Her finishing-school diction does not get in the way of effortlessly soulful phrasing.
Among the best moments on the album are the sly bossa nova tune, "The Performer," which is punctuated by stabs of organ and stinging lead guitar; the languid interpretation of Annie Lennox's "Pavement Cracks" and the peppery "You've Become My Song."
Radically different arrangements of standards such as "Lazy Afternoon," "Taste of Honey" and the title track keep Allen's music on the cutting edge but firmly ensconced in the realm of the eminently listenable.