Vocalist Gretchen Parlato and her band delivered one of the most perfectly understated and yet undeniably bedazzling jazz concerts of the year at The Egg in Albany. Displaying a confident vulnerability that was never merely fragile, she wove her way through a captivating 70-minute headlining set, her voice surfing atop the gentle waves of pianist Jason Lindner, drummer Jamire Williams and bassist Alan Hampton.
She drew the crowd in close with an intimate kind of zen samba sound which she applied to a wide ranging repertoire. She touched on pop/R&B nuggets – Simply Red’s “Holding Back the Years” and an encore of SWV’s “Weak” – making them completely her own. She took a brave approach to jazz classics by singing original lyrics that she wrote to Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly” and Wayne Shorter’s “Juju,” on the latter singing in a mantra-like chant, “Our own voices in our own time.”
Her own mesmerizing original tunes were equally entrancing, especially “How We Love,” which deftly balanced joy with tristesse.
Swiss jazz harmonica master Gregoire Maret was a perfect match for Parlato, showcasing selections from his upcoming album, due for release in February. Maret not only shared Parlato’s bittersweet musical moodiness, but also drummer Jamire Williams, who did double-duty on the evening.
“My Loved One” featured an exquisite duet between Maret and pianist Federico Pena, taken at a so very unhurried tempo, allowing the notes to resonate throughout the theater in all their bluesy, bent-note glory, all the while remaining undeniably swinging. Marvelous bassist Ben Williams spent most of the evening on electric bass, but switched to the big acoustic for this one, and rewarded the crowd with a warm, rich solo that was at once measured and passionate.
At times, Maret was bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet as he was playing – in part conducting the band with his body language; in part hoping the altitude might help him hit those high notes; and in part just for the sheer child-like joy of it all.
It was, in short, a marvelous night of music. No, neither Maret nor Parlato are household names, even in jazz circles, but the concert was a grand argument for taking a chance on something that you’re not necessarily familiar with.
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Albert Brooks’ photographs at Albany Jazz
THE GRETCHEN PARLATO QUARTET SET LIST
Holding Back the Years (Simply Red)
How We Love