Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Gretchen Parlato whispers to you " In A Dream"

The wispy voice of Gretchen Parlato whispers its way into your head and refuses to leave. Despite her muted, intimate approach to singing she somehow manages to capture your attention with precise intonation, a hushed toned sensuality and an astute sense of timing and space. You’ll find yourself straining to hear more. She shows an instrumentalist’s sensibility with the material she chooses to record, with compositions by Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Theolonius Monk in her repertoire.

I first heard her haunting voice on alto saxophonist Justin Vasquez’s “Triptych”, a fine release from last year. Parlato was a stand out on the title cut where she utilizes her voice not so much as a lead vocal but as another instrument. She has an uncanny rhythmic sense and reminds me of a young Flora Purim in the early Return to Forever days.

On her second album “In A Dream” she has aligned herself with fine musicians who help her through the difficult waters of headlining her own group. She wisely reunites with the talented and sympathetic Aaron Parks on keyboards. Along with the fine guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke is Derrick Hodge on bass and the kinetic Kendrick Scott on drums.

Her take on “I Can’t Help It”, the Stevie Wonder composition, has her singing and vocalizing behind the percussive vocal dynamics of Loueke as he accompanies her on voice and guitar. The pure, unadorned treatment of the production is especially refreshing as it allows her voice to stand brilliantly on its own.

Behind the machine-like brush work of Scott on snare, Parlato takes the words of “Within Me” and makes them her own in a display of subdued poise. Her hushed, bedroom voiced approach can sometimes seem affected but her timing is impeccable and she is pitch perfect.

On the Herbie Hancock/Bennie Maupin composition “Butterfly” her lithe vocals work seamlessly with Loueke’s vocal pops, clicks and guitar chords, once again proving these two are of similar musical spirit. Her deft use of space between words creates anticipation. Wayne Shorter’s “ESP” finds Parks playing Fender Rhodes, while Loueke matches Parlato’s percussive scat-like improvisations with his guitar licks.

For the non-jazz audience her unique rendition of an old SWV hit “ Weak” is sure to please. With a catchy backbeat and the spacey sounds of Parks on Fender Rhodes, Parlato delivers the lyrics to this pop song with a breathy sensuality that is particularly captivating.

The title track, a Robert Glasper composition “ In A Dream”, with its somnambulistic melody and swaying electric piano and organ comps by Aaron Parks finds Parlato’s dreamy, lacelike vocals at their best. It is this song that is perhaps most indicative of what sets this singer apart. Parlato is a captivating stylist whose interpretive skills embody an appreciation of the music that goes well beyond simply singing. In addition to an expressive vocal instrument, she seems to be able to immerse herself into the music and become one with it.

If used to excess her hushed delivery may wear thin, but for now “ In A Dream” stands alone as a thoroughly enjoyable departure from the crowded fare offered by most female vocalists.

Artist: Gretchen Parlato

CD: In A Dream (OSD –CD-107)

Musicians: Gretchen Parlato (voice); Lionel Loueke (guitar and voice); Aaron Parks (keyboards); Derrick Hodge (acoustic and electric bass); Kendrick Scott (drums & percussion).

Recorded: Recorded September 16, 2008 Kampo Studios & December 17th & 18th, 2008 at Legacy Recording, New York.

Track listing: I Can’t Help It; Within Me; Butterfly; In A Dream; Doralice; Turning Into Blue: E.S.P.; Azure; On the Other Side; Weak.

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