New York Jazz vocalist Gretchen Parlato is making big waves worldwide. If her name sounds familiar to you, her father Dave played on many an album for Frank Zappa. Academically, she’s been quote a gold star sticker winner, being the first vocalist ever admitted to the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance. Doesn’t mean squat to you? I’ll put it this way; Herbie Hancock was on the panel of her judges for admission.
Of course her list of academic achievements was amazing, but the real magic began when her self-titled first album was number five on Jazz Nation’s Best Progressive Jazz albums of 2005. Everything this gorgeous brunette touches turns to gold. She’s jumped on dozens of other musicians’ tracks, but most of you may know her from her work with fresh young Grammy winner Esperanza Spaulding.
Recently though, Gretchen released The Lost and Found, and may I report that I swooned many a time to Gretchen’s voice on my LA drive to the office whilst picking out what I loved about the album. Vocally, I compare her to the Cedric Bixler-Zavala of Jazz singers, hitting strange notes that other instruments tune to. And Gretchen if you’re reading this, that’s a complement, as he’s a part of one of my favorite bands!
It’s hard to define exactly what one can love about her voice, but it’s on another level. The closest I can describe her take on Jazz vocals, is similar to the same effect that Robert Glasper has on Jazz piano. Both are not only mastering the craft, but are molding the future of Jazz in their own right.
Before I start, let me just say, shout out to the band. Period. They nailed this album.
My first of three favorite on the album, is the opening track Holding Back the Years. The beat is mellow, with the piano softly dancing along. Bass keeps steady, hitting extra low end notes on occasion, and higher bass notes during the chorus. She almost whispers the lyrics to this song, telling a story about the wasted time with a not so great lover.
Track 11, Blue in Green is a faster paced song, at least in the beginning, with its rapid but light snare hits, and odd but synchronized timing of the band and Gretchen’s vocals. A little past the 1:35 mark, the piano goes off on a tangent breaking down on a mini solo, and slowing the tempo down for a bit. The beat and piano become more playful throughout the later half, eventually cooling down and defraying at the end.
The strongest track for me however, was the 4th one, How We Love. The lyrics tell the story of a world that will let a love exist freely, giving it time to breathe and enjoy itself. Musically, I felt it was the most cohesive track, giving ground to the more structured Jazz world, while also letting go and letting you dance to the note-numerous bass line. Drums keep the crisp cymbal theme, and the chorus gives you something to hum to yourself. Don’t forget to dance at the piano solo at about 1:45 to enjoy the song to its fullest.
Honestly, I had only one album on my list of best of this year, but this may very well be my second one. I mention Robert Glasper earlier, who actually makes an appearance on track 10, so keep out for that. Tracks like Alo Alo are more organic, and feel like something Debi Nova would do. Finally, Gretchen pays homage to mega diva Mary J. Blige with her cover of the 1999 hit, All That I Can Say.
There’s so much more I could say about this album, but I won’t go too far overboard. I highly recommend the album if you’re even a faint jazz fan. For the diehard fans, you probably already have it! Check out her website for all the details on this amazing talent.
Until next time my friends,