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Gretchen Parlato In a Dream Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Unveils a singer with her own sound, something that often takes many years to achieve.

Kevin Le Gendre 2009

As far as clichés go, there is the jazz singer who scats, and the one what don’t. That said, there doesn’t have to be a never-the-twain-shall-meet divide between the rousing fireworks of Sarah Vaughan and the sultry embers of Billie Holiday, and it could be argued that vocal improvising itself has become even more interesting in the past few decades simply because those two strands have entwined to varying degrees.

A known quantity on the New York jazz scene through appearances with a coterie of progressive players such as the Beninois Lionel Loueke, Gretchen Parlato is a singer whose creativity lies somewhere between those two poles. She has an almost insidious subtlety, personalising a theme by way of improvisations that are often just a few delicately curled phrases that sometimes mirror the hypnotically grainy chords of Loueke’s nylon string guitar.

Parlato respects melody above all else. Her negotiation of each song is as sensitive as that of the rest of the band – keys, bass, drums – and the lean, spare nature of the arrangements, at times stripped right down to just voice and crisp finger picking, brings a spacious, airborne quality to the work.

Tonally, Parlato has moments where she recalls a cultured folk-rock singer such as Suzanne Vega; but for the most part the hazy finesse of a long line of great Brazilian singers, notably Flora Purim, is also discernible. Indeed, a Latin sensibility is very strong, rhythmically as well as vocally, above all on a quite sumptuous reprise of Herbie Hancock’s Butterfly, a tune that is tailor made for Parlato for its gliding, slow burn lyricism.

Originals such as Weak and the title track also impress by the focused economy of their verse-chorus structure but, for the most part, In a Dream unveils a singer with her own sound, which is something that often takes many years for young pretenders to achieve, whether the route taken is via the billowing energy of Sassy or the vaporous languor of Billie.

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