LIVE REVIEW: Gretchen Parlato

The Hollywood Bowl   Hollywood, CA

Contact: Karen Kennedy, 24/Seven Artist Development, [email protected]

Web: gretchenparlato.com

Players: Gretchen Parlato, vocals, percussion; Lionel Loueke, guitar, backing vocals; Mark Guiliana, drums

Material: Kicking off the release of her latest album, Lean In, alongside artistic partner Lionel Loueke, Gretchen Parlato performed five songs from the duo’s new project, along with a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “I Can’t Help It.” A reimagining of “Butterfly”—including Parlato’s a cappella vocal intro set against offbeat guitar rhythms and scat overlay from Loueke—was the perfect nod to Herbie Hancock (who curated the festival and sat front and center for the duo he first discovered 20 years earlier). Presenting a magical combination of artistry, Parlato and Loueke added a blissful elegance to the Hollywood Bowl’s annual jazz celebration.

Musicianship: Each a masterful musician in their own right, the combination of expressive sound appeared effortless and free, supporting each other with musical interplay. Parlato feels like a blend of Basia and Astrud Gilberto, with Loueke’s sound reminiscent of Bobby McFerrin and George Benson, with West African dialect sprinklings added in for flavor. “Akwe” showcased Loueke’s style with Xhosa-click voicings in a West African-Brazilian blend that underpinned Parlato’s gorgeous breath control and the duo’s beautiful syncopated musical conversation. 

Performance: “I Can’t Help It” (Stevie Wonder/Susaye Green) brought fabulous ghosted vocal improvisation from Parlato and an offbeat refrain, while reinterpreted Klymaxx track “I Miss You” showcased stunning melodic runs and effortless vocal leaps. An ethereal vocal outro transitioned to Parlato’s husband, Mark Guiliana, joining the group on drums and percussion for “Lean In” and “If I Knew,” adding rimshot artistry, rhythmic lilt and heavier percussion to the mix. Parlato’s scat interpretations remained at the forefront of the set.

Summary: Closing song, “Nonvignon,” gave the best insight into their artistic connection and magnified the West African melodic influence of the duo’s sound, along with more vocal clicking and airy vocal accents from Loueke. The full-circle performance had Parlato following her high school alma mater performance, as well as an ensemble from the Herbie Hancock Institute, where she and Loueke first met during their audition process (two decades ago). Parlato’s gorgeous vocal artistry is gently invitational, but grows to be addictive. Her captivating sound draws you in to her expressive storytelling for a delicious jazz journey.