Evocative and Delicate 

Gretchen Parlato brings modernist restraint to the Modlin.

There is no shortage of new music, but hearing something new in music is rare.

In performance, jazz vocalist Gretchen Parlato is a revelation. Her highly praised records showcase a singer of delicate control and modernist restraint. But onstage her diaphanous voice expands into an instrument of impressive range, rhythmic sophistication and emotional power. Her powerhouse trio is no mere cushion for jewellike lyrics. From the crisply aggressive drum solo in the opening “Within Me;” this is a full-force band, not just a singer with sidemen.

Performing at the Modlin Center on Thursday night, the group hits an unflagging stride with the second song -- Parlato’s heartfelt and clever, halting and hurrying version of Simply Red’s ’80s hit “Holding Back the Years.” She sweeps into the jazz tradition with Herbie Hancock’s lilting “Butterfly” followed by Wayne Shorter’s asymmetric “Juju.” Her lyrics for the latter are poetic, but the wordless vocalizations, delivered in the soaring upper register reach and slightly nasal texture of a soprano saxophone, are equally evocative.

But if she is the star, it is the complete band that shines through. Bassist Alan Hampton switches to guitar for a duet with Parlato on his folk-mantra composition, “Still.” Pianist Taylor Eigsti attacks the piano from every direction, switching from two handed classical virtuosity to plucking the strings, to drumming on the closed lid. Drummer Kendrick Scott anchors with flash and restraint. His encore-opening solo is an exercise in muscular logic and surprise.

The praise that has been lavished on Parlato by critics and musicians establishes high expectations that she exceeds with understated ease. It is also somewhat rare to see a performer live up to their critical hype. Last month’s sold-out performance by Grammy darling Esperanza Spaulding had its magic moments, but seems self-conscious and ephemeral in retrospect.

At one point Parlato puts in a plug for the T-shirts that she designed with her sister that are on sale in the lobby. One says simply “I (heart) GP.” By the end of the evening, it was easy to sympathize with that sentiment.


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