jeudi 24 septembre 2009

Sweet Gretchen Parlato




One day not too long ago I was driving to my nearest Target and listening to KPLU, Tacoma's NPR affiliate and a station that specializes in jazz. KPLU was playing a recent concert performance by Gretchen Parlato. I listened to her suave voice, which at times sounded more like an instrument, and thought of Camille, my favorite French singer. Camille also does these strange things with her voice, in the great tradition of the African singers. When I heard Gretchen Parlato would be at the Triple Door, I just had to go. For the first time, we went for the dinner credit scheme, which comes with a reserved booth for four.

It turns out that this gets you front-row seating. The only seats closer to the stage are actually at the foot of it, with bar style seating. Those seats were just in front of us, and were occupied by some high school kids who play in the best local high school jazz band. They were enthralled. It was fun to watch them watch. I think they were thrilled to be in such an adult setting (you have to be 17 to get in to the Triple Door).

The subtlety of Gretchen Parlato's performance is something to behold. She sways ever so slightly and hardly opens her mouth as she makes incredibly suave and silky sounds. Those who only like singers who belt out their tunes may be disappointed; she's too cool for that. She's the New Bossa Nova, the Girl From Ipanema singing about the Boy From Ipanema. She's a tiny thing who towers over everything, with well-proportioned, tiny arms and legs. But she has amazingly long fingers, which she uses to play the microphone like an instrument as she sings: sometimes a flute, sometimes a clarinet, sometimes a trombone or sax. She was wearing what looked like a very colorful pillowcase with a black sash around the middle, and very high cream-colored heels. She looked like a six-year old who had gotten into mommy's closet and make-up drawer. There was something very endearing and no-nonsense about her.

She was accompanied by a pianist (Taylor Eigsti, playing a beautiful Steinway grand piano), a drummer/percussionist (the immensely talented Kendrick Scott; I bought his CD too) and bassist Alan Hampton. They were all quietly consommate musicians. Grethchen Parlato's enthusiastic fans include jazz legends Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.

I'm listening to Parlato's latest CD, In a Dream, right now. It features excerpts of her singing at age 2. How sweet is that?

What's Bjork got to do with it?

I just realized who Gretchen reminds me of - Bjork on Gling-Glo, her one-time experiment with pure jazz vocals. She recorded Gling-Glo in 1990, when she was working with her Icelandic college rock band The Sugarcubes. This was before she became a name. She teamed up with the Gudmundar Ingólfssonar Trio on a set of traditional Icelandic jazz tunes. I came across Gling-Glo in 2003, while visiting Iceland. I was in a record store in the unspellable city of Reykjavik when I heard what sounded like Bjork on the sound system. The owner of the shop got all excited when I asked about it, and told me she used to perform at the jazz club right up the street. I could have sworn he also told me that Bjork's father had also been a local jazz performer, but I may have imagined this. Anyway, Gling-Glo is a joyful piece of work, which is why it is hard to believe it's Bjork. She can be a bit gloomy, with wild emotional mood swings. But if you listen to her gloomy and manic bits while in Iceland, they make total sense. Gling-Glo is positively upbeat, though.