Live Review: Mose Allison at Largo at the Coronet [UPDATED]
Mose Allison fans couldn’t have asked for a more ideal environment for the second performance of his two-night stand at Largo at the Coronet on Sunday night. The first winter storm of 2010 snarled traffic and might have taken a bite out of the evening’s attendance, but there were few talents better suited to a rainy evening than the 82-year-old piano master.
Allison is like an antidote to winter doldrums. In a show presented by the still-itinerant Jazz Bakery as part of what club president and artistic director Ruth Price called its “movable feast” concert series, Allison showcased the breezy cool and biting wit that have made him an inspiration to generations of artists, including Van Morrison, Elvis Costello and even the Clash, which covered Allison on the double-album “Sandinista!”
Though the elegantly bearded Allison still plays around 100 shows a year, this six-city mini-tour marked a comeback of sorts for the songwriter, who will release his first album of new material in 12 years in March on Anti- Records. Produced by longtime Largo favorite Joe Henry, who has helped record lauded returns by Solomon Burke and Bettye LaVette, the record is said to add new wrinkles to Allison’s signature sound, including slide guitar and mandolin.
But any unveiling of new material would have to wait. This show, straddling the Mississippi native’s comfort zone along his own Southern-seasoned line between jazz and blues, was a typically stripped-down, lighthearted affair that served as a pocket overview of Allison’s rich legacy.
Backed by only a glossy Steinway and on-the-spot bassist Tom Warrington, Allison offered a musical history lesson of sorts with Mercury-smooth covers of favorites by Duke Ellington, Percy Mayfield and Willie Dixon, whose swinging “I Love the Life I Live” was an early highlight.
As Allison directed his bassist with whispered page numbers from his songbook across two brisk, off-the-cuff sets, the pianist's arsenal of warmth and wit seemed endless, especially when taking on his own material. The years might have added a few layers of sandpaper to his honeyed voice, but Allison's sense of mischief remained untarnished. His "Monsters of the Id," riding a dark, snaking melody, was first recorded in 1969 but could have been written yesterday with comparisons of those in power to “prehistoric ghouls” and “resurrected huns.” Responding to a boisterous request from the crowd during a looser second set, Allison’s “Parchman Farm” rode a defiant, juke-joint bounce to the last-minute lyrical twist of “I’m going to be here the rest of my life, and all I did was shoot my wife.”
Given Allison's formidable gift for wordplay and his unflinching eye for human behavior, it's easy to compare him to a road-tested comic with A-list material that can win over any crowd. Though it's hard not to wish this evening also had offered a chance to sample Allison's new material, the very fact that it's on the way is seriously promising news.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this review misidentified Mose Allison's bassist as Tom Worthington and Jazz Bakery artistic director and president Ruth Price as the club's owner.
-- Chris Barton
Photo: Mose Allison, left, and Tom Warrington at Largo at the Coronet Sunday night. Credit: Stefano Paltera / For The Times