In the ever-growing crowd of jazz vocalists, Gretchen Parlato increasingly stands out for her unique sound and musicality. She has been criticized by those who think she should sing "bigger," move around more, and open her eyes when she performs. But she has held to her own meditative style, which includes encouraging her bands to have spontaneous, passionate, and personally-expressive conversations, rather than being obedient supporters that she unilaterally "leads." This is all very evident on Live in NYC, which offers both audio and video testimony to Parlato's singular talents.
These include her soft, dreamy tone, blessedly accurate pitch, and the phrasing of lines that consistently swing, whatever the tempo. Parlato's organic sense of time also shows in her breathing, particularly on faster tunes like "Butterfly" and "Alo Alo," where her short, sharp intakes create a percussive effect all their own. This underscores the fact that, beyond being a remarkable vocalist, she is a fine instrumentalist as well.
Parlato's choice of bandmates adds to the many pleasures here. Pianist and keyboardist Taylor Eigsti, a Grammy-nominated leader and composer in his own right, provides blazing and sensitive solos throughout; his flawless runs and melodic creativity are distinctive, and far more than displayed by most vocal accompanists. There's also a consistently rich, mutual interplay among Parlato, Eigsti, and each of the superb bassists and drummersAlan Hampton and Burniss Earl Travis ii, and Mark Guiliana and Kendrick Scott, respectively. It's all part of Parlato's vision, where players are prized for their artful ability to re-invent the music, remaining true to its basic form while keeping it always fresh and alive.
Standout tracks include her own powerful "Better Than," the delightful "Alo Alo," where the DVD reveals her percussionist skill (and the source of all that intriguing clacking), and Herbie Hancock's "Butterfly," where the opening riff is catchy enough to linger in mind the rest of the day. Parlato continues to transform a wide range of material, including the American Songbook and pop tunes like Simply Red's "Holding Back the Years"; she seems to select whatever music and story speak to her personally, regardless of genre. The result is a style that's not only delightful to hear, but suggests an active, thoughtful, and original musical intelligence behind it. Given her restless and exploratory spirit, it will be fascinating to see where Parlato goes next.
Butterfly; All That I Can Say; Alo Alo; Within Me; Holding Back The
Years; JuJu; Weak; On The Other Side; Better Than.
Gretchen Parlato: vocals; Taylor Eigsti: piano and keyboards; Alan
Hampton: bass and vocals (1, 3, 4, 5, 6); Burniss Earl Travis II: bass
and vocals (2, 7, 8, 9); Mark Guiliana: drums (1, 3, 4, 5, 6); Kendrick
Scott: drums (2, 7, 8, 9).
Author of "The Insanity Hoax: Exposing the myth of the mad genius," now in its updated second edition,Dr. J combines her love of jazz and her fascination with psychology, focusing on where they overlap: in celebrating the individual spirit.