Out & About 01: Gretchen Parlato Returns


Out and About #01: Gretchen

Out and About resulted from some considerations about happiness.  I wondered what within my grasp would make me happier, and one of the answers was to write about music more.  I love writing, I write about music for one of the most prestigious outlets in the world, but I don’t write there often.  Not too too long ago, I wrote about music two or thee times a week.  I can’t do that again, but I can write more often. Just because I’m not paid for my musings doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the exercise.

Gretchen Parlato makes intense music that isn’t overpowering.  Instead, she draws you in, painstakingly measuring the emotion and feeling into every word of a lyric or engaging with rhythmically potent vocalese often offset by a member of her band.  Her work is unique and compelling, and it had been missing as Parlato, once a regular in several corners of the New York jazz scene all but vanished in recent years.

She marked her return the weekend between Christmas and New Years with four mostly sold out performances at Jazz Gallery.  She presented a commission, The Stars or Space Between, a suite of eight songs that pondered identity as it related to parenthood.  It was a musical way of explaining where she’d been.  Parlato arrived on the scene in 2004 by winning the Thelonious Monk Vocal Competition.  She became a vital part of the NYC scene recording several times on her own and guesting on dozens of other recordings.  She was nominated for a Grammy in 2015.  Yet afterward, she was gone.

The short answer of what happened is that she had a son and decided to be a full time Mom.  But as an artist, an artist on the verge of stardom in the jazz community, it was a decision fraught with complications.  In her eight songs she parses those issues and wonders what our sources of identity are.

Saturday night’s first set sizzled and pulsated with the quiet confidence that has become her trademark.  Rather than bowl us over, the music drew us in with discreet details, a guitar/vocalese/bass improvisation in one song, small percussion and vocals dueting in another.  The band, Camila Meza guitar/backing vocals, Chris Morrissey bass, and her husband Mark Guiliana drums, sounded as if they’d lived in the material for a while (when in fact, it was the first public performances).  Meza, whose own group, the Nectar Orchestra, traffics in similarly refined music, in particular seemed especially sympathetic to Parlato’s vocal approach.

Parlato’s subject matter is a fresh addition to the jazz lexicon, and her style is a fascinating blend of performers like Shirley Horn and styles like bossa nova and various West African musical styles.  She and Guilana recently relocated to Los Angeles, a homecoming for Parlato who is from California, but this weekend demonstrated that she can pick up where she left off on the New York scene.

An interview with Parlato about her new work is here, https://www.jazzspeaks.org/the-stars-or-space-between-gretchen-parlato-speaks/#more-7100

Martin Johnson is a freelance writer whose work on music, sports and culture has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Newsday, New York, Vogue, Rolling Stone, The Root, Slate, The Atlantic, and numerous other publications and websites. He also blogs at Rotations, and he can be contacted at thejoyofcheese@gmail.com.

About jmartin437

I've worked in and around the world of high end cheese for 27 years. I've been everything from a department manager who hired and fired and trained staffs to a weekend warrior who shows up ties on an apron the middle of a rush and talks to customers and cleans up the place. I enjoy it all, and I especially like my current situation conducting informal seminars about cheese at area bars and in class at the 92nd St. Y. The current schedule is always up at thejoyofcheese.blogspot.com. In addition I conduct private events that are perfect to lead off birthday parties for foodies and sommeliers and also they make great entertainment for corporate team building events and associates meetings at law firms. In addition, I've been a freelance journalist for 27 years. Currently my profiles of leading musicians and filmmakers appear in the Wall Street Journal and www.theroot.com. I also wrote about sports for the Root, and for five loooong years, which included the entirety of the Isiah Thomas Knicks era, I wrote about the NBA for the New York Sun. I enjoyed writing about basketball so much that I now do it here at rotations for free.
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