Gent Jazz Festival: Days 1-4: July 5-8, 2012
New York-based singer Gretchen Parlato wasn't a typical purveyor of song. Her style and approach offered an alternative slant to the majority, although such individuality risked becoming narrow-sounding during an entire set. The singer tended to operate on a similar dynamic level throughout, keeping the phrasing untethered; the tone, breezy and soft. Parlato glided and skidded across the core rhythm, landing askew. She made an art form out of being relaxed and casual in a studied manner, but the cumulative effect lacked diversity. The trio did play a couple of tunes without Parlato, though, providing some variety. The bass and drum team of Burniss Travis and Kendrick Scott made interlocking patterns that, along with their soulful backing vocals, recalled the smooth R&B gushings of pianist Robert Glasper. Parlato didn't talk to the audience, but it didn't look like this was due to any unfriendliness on her part. Presumably she wanted the songs to speak their own mind.
The Brad Mehldau Trio made a return visit to Gent, following its triumphant set at the 2009 festival. As evidenced by Ode (Nonesuch, 2012), the pianist and his crew have been getting increasingly funky, less inclined towards introspection and more engaged with a rapid development of virtuoso pneumatic displays. Most of the evening's pieces were indeed lifted from Ode, the threesome highlighting their complex rhythmic relationships. This was never at the expense of melodic approachability. Mehldau's left hand might finish off a phrase half-completed by his right, or vice versa. Mehldau had no conventional sense of the role division usually dealt out to each set of digits. He constantly changed the flow, confounding any attempts at anticipation on behalf of the audience. Mehldau's style is also becoming increasingly percussive, opening out to extroverted impulses. Hard clusters of notes, but in the name of a tune. New drummer Jeff Ballard is not so new anymore, now thoroughly integrated as Jorge Rossy's replacement for seven years. He was totally tonal, at first dampening with draped cloths, fur-ball sticks skimming, but then, even when hardening the sound, remained pressable and warm. Bassist Larry Grenadier also sang organically, without much tactile gut-frictionresonant and fluid. The trio's magnificent rapport won the crowd over once again.