By Michael Katz
Vocalist Gretchen Parlato returned home to Los Angeles Saturday night before a large and enthusiastic audience at the Musician’s Institute, under the aegis the of the Jazz Bakery’s Movable Feast program. Having seen Parlato twice previously, the most notable addition was a steady working trio behind her that weaved seamlessly with her impressionistic stylings.
Pianist Sam Harris, bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Mark Guiliana, from the opening medley of “Within Me” and “Holding Back The Years,” provided sensitive soloing and percussive backing that were reminiscent of the Tierney Sutton Band. That band, of course, has been together for years and Parlato’s choice of material tends to be more atmospheric; much of her material seems to flow in a stream of consciousness.
Her opening medley was followed by another combination, Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly” and Wayne Shorter’s “Juju,” with an impressive bass opening by Raghavan. Her interpretation of “Butterfly” worked especially well, the lilting melody lingering in one’s mind throughout the performance. She augmented the lyrics with dreamy vocalizations – sometimes a little too often for my taste, but the band’s support, particularly the piano work of Harris, kept the listener’s attention focused.
One of Parlato’s best attributes is her comfort with Brazilian tunes and rhythms. About midway through the set, she donned a pair of small percussion shakers and sang an enchanting “Alo Alo” from Paulinho Da Viola. Parlato has an ease with these lyrics; she engages the audience more directly, the rhythms speaking for themselves. She followed that with her own compositions “Circling,” another whispery piece that featured some lovely piano work by Harris, and “Lost and Found,” the title song from her latest CD, with some nice brush work from Guiliana. But it was more Brazilian rhythms that provided one of the most engaging numbers in the set, “On The Other Side,” a Francis Jacob composition from her In A Dream CD. Parlato was at her beguiling best, working with a larger double gourd shaker this time, weaving the melody in with Harris’s textured playing.
Following an up tempo reading of “Blue In Green,” Parlato ended the set by calling up an old friend named Annie and her little boy Magnus, whose singing to his soon-to-be sibling during his mom’s pregnancy had inspired Parlato to create a full fledged tune named for him. Parlato sang with the boy and his mom, and eventually the audience. It was a moment of totally spontaneous joy that connected with listeners on every level. Obviously that hometown camaraderie can’t be recreated every night, but it does demonstrate that Parlato, whose stage presence sometimes seems a little too cool and laid back, possesses the verve to reach out and grab an audience.