Jazz Review | Gretchen Parlato: Singer Finds the Essence Underneath
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Wed Dec 8 16:09:25 EST 2004
Jazz Review | Gretchen Parlato: Singer Finds the Essence Underneath the Words
December 7, 2004
By BEN RATLIFF
The wisdom afforded by dry pleasures always comes with
limits. Gretchen Parlato, a young jazz singer with unusual
subtlety, at first seems as though she's going to be a
particularly good source of dry pleasure, pushing down her
middle-range voice into a small stratum of her band's
music. But then this becomes her stealth device, a kind of
musical embedding: she enters the music, becoming part of
the band, improvising in melody and rhythm, prying open
sweet spots in the songs that have little do with their
Ms. Parlato, from Los Angeles, has been working in New York
for only about a year. In September she won the Thelonious
Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition; since then she
has been playing more gigs in town with a number of
different musicians, without exactly forming a regular
working band. But it's evident that she's an extraordinary
singer, even in circumstances that aren't battened-down. In
her group on Saturday night at the Jazz Gallery was Daniel
Kaufman on piano, Massimo Biolcati on bass and Daniel
Freedman on drums; they were joined for some songs by the
harmonica player Gregoire Maret, and in the second set by
Lionel Loueke, the Benin-born acoustic guitarist who has
been performing with her more and more, connecting his own
unusual, highly rhythmic phrasing with hers.
You don't pay much attention to words during Ms. Parlato's
performances: her attention to rhythm and dynamics, for
now, is the thing. Most of Saturday's music was in another
language, anyway: Brazilian standards by Jobim, Ary Barroso
and Dorival Caymmi. Ms. Parlato isn't a native Portuguese
speaker, but has learned how to sing remarkably clearly in
that language, internalizing specifics of Brazilian rhythm.
But even when she sang a song by Bjork ("Come to Me,"
rendered with a nearly chamber-music version of go-go funk
rhythm) or Gershwin ("The Man I Love"), she wasn't there to
reveal the meanings of words.
In "The Man I Love," she nearly disappeared, but then
emerged with new force. For the first half of the song, she
sang light, true notes, using a narrow, energetic vibrato
only at the point of a phrase when her voice had just
dipped below the clearly audible level, making you wonder
what you'd just heard. Mr. Maret took over for a solo
through several choruses, pushing his ideas across bar
lines and growing nearly ecstatic as he does in almost
every improvisation; Ms. Parlato followed, bringing
improvised, scat-sung melody out in strong waves.
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