The cover of No One Is Alone, Allen Austin-Bishop’s warmly inviting, deeply soulful new album, is curious and quirky. With juxtaposed gray and orange striping, he offers cartoon imagery of people going up and down elevators. Maybe they’re all off to hear the New Jersey bred, longtime London based R&B influenced jazz crooner – and he will indeed touch their hearts with graceful, lushly produced interpretations of beloved songs from many eras, on many different emotional and spiritual levels.
But a better matching illustration would have been one of him holding court in the intimacy of a small living room, with everyone relaxed but attentive as he showcases his masterful storytelling chops. Working with the beyond excellent trio of pianist Alex Maydew, bassist Mao Yamada and percussionist Rob Hervais-Adelman, Austin-Bishop gently explores all the emotional angles, hushed intimacies and inherent drama of everything from relative obscurities from Paul Williams and Stephen Sondheim to classics by Burt Bacharach, Gershwin, Roberta Flack and Frank Sinatra.
It’s a fascinating set list whose only theme seems to be “songs that provide a platform for Austin-Bishop to showcase the dreamy, dusky vocals.” Only one minor complaint – too ballad heavy. His embrace of the lively, swinging alternate take of “That’s All” shows a keen facility and great phrasing for up-tempo grooves, yet that’s the only track with that vibe. Next time, a little more groove variation would be most welcome.