LJF Concert review: Gretchen Parlato

Kings Place, London UK

There are gigs, there are good gigs, and there are gigs that are preceded by a measure of excited anticipation and deliver the bright shining faces of real jazz satisfaction. This was one of the last named.

The New-York based Californian and her band are terrific on record – just a cursory listen to The Lost And Found, their latest disc on ObliqSound, confirms the freshness of their take on the jazz and piano trio form – but in live performance they fill this music with even more energy, stretching it like some magic pliable plastic into new and exciting forms.

They began with Within Me, from her previous In A Dream album, double bassist Alan Hampton kicking it off with the low thrum, pianist Taylor Eigsti adding the floating chords and drummer Kendrick Scott stirring up a quiet storm with the brushes and rods. Parlato establishes her signature tone and place in the mix.

From this beginning and through material from The Lost And Found, Holding Back The Years, Juju, Still, Alo Alo, Circling, Better Than, All That I Can Say and How We Love, as well as Butterfly from In A Dream, the quartet develops a singular character, with the instrumentalists forming a bubbling hot vortex at the centre of which the singer maintains a cool, in every sense, fulcrum.

The rhythmic and dynamic expertise of all four is extraordinary. They shift the accents around, they pause, and fall back in perfectly, they deepen the groove and then “shallow” it gently again, Eigsti dams the notes of his solos up with tension and then lets them tumult and dissipate, Scott moves seamlessly from dramatic room-booming thumps to gorgeous fast yet gentle high-hat skitters.

Gretchen Parlato - oblique take on modern jazz singing

Parlato’s voice is as unmistakeable live as on record, small but perfectly formed and slicing clearly through the centre of the music, its power far greater than should be expected from such restrained delivery. The ripples on this water are barely discernible but there is no mistaking the depth beneath.

Hampton’s tune Still, with words by Parlato and delivered as a duet with Hampton on guitar, shows the links of this music to a folkier trend in contemporary American jazz, while her covering of Lauren Hill’s All That I Can Say, and the influence of Robert Glasper, who co-produced The Lost And Found, makes the connection with contemporary R’n’B and hip-hop beats.

On the inner sleeve of The Lost And Found, Parlato’s fringe echoes perfectly her neckline, creating an oblique line which upsets the conventions of the body; it’s an appropriate image to reflect Parlato’s oblique way of refiguring jazz singing in the 21st century.


Categories: Live review

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