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JAZZ REVIEW : Mose Allison--A Poet Laureate With the Blues

October 30, 1987|A. JAMES LISKA

If jazz is to ever have a poet laureate, it might well consider Mose Allison, the singer-pianist-composer who not only presents his own magically effusive lyrics in a unique and swinging style, but delivers the words and music of others in an equally effective manner.

Who, save the late Nat King Cole, for instance, could better manage the cumbersome "Meet Me at No Special Place and I'll Be There at No Particular Time" than the Mississippi-born Allison, who began a four-night stint at the Vine St. Bar & Grill Wednesday night? Or, for that matter, who could turn the upbeat "You Are My Sunshine" into a slow and meandering blues, the mournful "Tumblin' Tumbleweed" into a lightly rendered air, the Victor Herbert classic "Indian Summer" into a bop exercise?

Though his piano stylings have grown a bit bombastic, the singing part of Allison has retained its youthful whimsy. Indeed, while his two-tune instrumental opening of Wednesday night's first set was lacking the subtlety he automatically delivers behind his own vocals, he nonetheless exhibited extraordinary skills. It's just that it's the lyrics, delivered in that inimitable Southern voice--rough around the edges, smooth in the middle--that has made Allison the enduring jazz figure he is.

The songs of Allison's making are city songs by a country boy--urban blues in a rural setting. "When You Get to the City," like most of his repertoire, is a bluesy tune filled with home-grown colloquialisms. It tells a story. So do "One of These Days (I've Got to Get Things Straight)" and "Molecular Structure." It is the story-telling quality that makes Allison's contribution to the genre unique.

And somehow he's managed to find songs by others with a like mind. "Your Mind Is on Vacation (But Your Mouth Is Working Overtime)," "How Much Truth Can This World Stand" and Willie Dixon's "I Live Like I Love and I Love Like I Live" each fits the bill of telling a story simply. One gets the impression that Allison would admit to having wished he'd written the tunes.

Supporting Allison in his 20-tune opening set was bassist Scott Colley and drummer John Dentz. Each performed perfectly in each setting, providing support and impetus for Allison's difficult job of communicating the wit and musicality of his chosen songs.

Allison and company play the Hollywood jazz club through Saturday night.

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