On a night overflowing with music, jazz singer Gretchen Parlato concluded this season’s Jazz Series with an exquisite concert on Friday night, May 10, backed by keyboardist Fabian Almazan, bassist Chris Morrissey and drummer Mark Guiliana. Parlato sang tunes from her albums “In a Dream” and “Lost and Found,” showcasing each musician’s individual voice while also creating a uni-fied texture and mood behind Parlato.
Coming from a musical family, Parlato first gained attention when she won first place in the Thelonious Monk Institute Interna-tional Vocal Competition and has continued to turn heads in her solo work as well as her collaborations with Wayne Shorter, Es-peranza Spalding, Marcus Miller and Herbie Hancock, among others.
The concert began with piano, bass and drums setting the groove to “Within Me” before Parlato walked on stage. A four-note line laid down by the bass set the stage under the delicate colors of brushes by the drummer and twinkling melodies by the piano until Parlato entered. The relaxing mood of the evening was immediately set when she began singing.
Amid a plethora of female jazz vocalists, Parlato’s style is truly unique in its intimacy and delicacy of each inflection and lyric. I can only describe her as having an aura about her; she was calming and almost introspective in her sound, never sounding forceful or as if she was trying too hard. Her musical style reflected the sultry and sensual sounds of her voice, with each tune feeling fluid and floating.
Her second tune was a cover of Simply Red’s “Holding Back the Years” from “Lost and Found,” followed by “Butterfly,” which gave Parlato a chance to add body percussion to its bossa nova groove. Throughout the rest of the concert, Parlato would play the caxixi or televi shakers (both percussive instruments)either as structural grooves or extra embellishments. During one tune, Parlato created a percussive vocal track with popping sounds, whistles and something similar to high squeaks.
Scatting is a typical characteristic of jazz singing, but Parlato’s style did not include this effect, instead improvising longer melod-ic lines on one syllable. This created more of a textural landscape rather than conventional improvised soloing.
One tune featured the piano and voice in a duet, created by elastic phrases and rubato lines between each player. Almazan on piano covered the entire range of the piano, building thick textures of extended chords while Parlato wove her voice in and out of his composition.
Transitioning into the final tune, drummer Guiliana soloed with meticulous rhythms and metric licks, sounding almost mechani-cal in his precision, but still musically clever and groove- based. The audience then welcomed her back for an encore tune called “Winter Wind” from her third album. Parlato wrote the tune and lyrics, which gradually build to an extended period of all members improvising under her repeatedly singing, “it’s the time of your life… to hold on.”
Amidst all the music on Friday, I temporarily forgot I was in Appleton, Wis., rather than someplace like New York City. Members of fusion band Snarky Puppy, based in Brooklyn, were seen at Parlato’s concert and then vice versa, with Parlato’s band joining in the LU-Aroo festivities at Snarky Puppy’s show. Thank you to LU and all the people who made such a great evening of music possi-ble!