Gretchen Parlato's voice is a thing of wonder. Striking the ideal balance between precision and flexibility, she is never predictable, blurring the lines between singer and instrumentalist as she takes a lyric—and at other times improvised flights of wordless fancy—to places it's never before been. On In a Dream, her debut album for ObliqSound, which releases August 25, Parlato and her intuitive support team reinvent constantly, Parlato impeccably articulating in a voice so ethereal that the listener might very well feel that he or she is "in a dream."
Coming four years after her self-titled debut, In a Dream finds Parlato embarking on a beguiling journey deep into the heart of both her own compositions and classic material by the likes of Stevie Wonder, Duke Ellington, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and others—all of which she instantly makes her own. Each song emerges as a unique world unto itself, yet there's an undeniable thread linking them all together.
Aligning with a virtuosic quartet she describes as "inspiring, creative, sensitive, musical souls"—Lionel Loueke on guitar, Aaron Parks on piano and Fender Rhodes, Derrick Hodge on acoustic and electric bass, and drummer Kendrick Scott—Parlato brings the warmth and compelling command of her much-heralded live performances to 10 exquisite new peeks into her artistic personality. In a Dream firmly places Gretchen Parlato in the upper echelon of today's vocal artists.
Both Hancock and Shorter are already fans. Hancock has said that Parlato has a "deep, almost magical connection to the music," and Shorter has said "in an inconspicuous way, Gretchen plays the same instrument as Frank Sinatra."
Michele Locatelli, the album's producer and co-founder of ObliqSound, notes that Parlato's desire to blend a broad range of musical influences sets her apart. "Even though her means of expression is jazz-based, it goes beyond that. The defining thing about her, however, is her subtle sense of rhythm and timing: she makes a song seem easy when it's not."
From the opening number, her interpretation of Wonder's "I Can't Help It," best known via Michael Jackson's rendition, Parlato's extraordinary vocal calisthenics, immaculate sense of timing and nuanced phrasing are in full bloom. Parlato transforms the song into a breathy neo- bossa nova, joined solely by Loueke's closely intertwined, sweet guitar lines and vocalized percussion and bass accompaniment. "The song just grew organically and has continued to develop every time we play it," Parlato says.
The song list runs the gamut from classic Brazilian— "Doralice," learned from the legendary singer/guitarist João Gilberto—to the flowing "Turning Into Blue," penned by the bassist Alan Hampton, with lyrics by Parlato based on Buddhist teachings. The way in which she stretches out the word "turning," then catches up with "into blue" is indicative of Parlato's innate ability to work miracles with a lyric and hold the listener's attention via her ingenuity. Ellington's "Azure," says Parlato, "taps into that dreamlike state we can be in when we long for someone and feel completely alone. I love to reveal the beauty in the darkness." Performed in a 5/4 rhythm, the track features a stunning bass solo by Hodge.