Gretchen Parlato’s winsome voice illuminates jazz’s unique perspective as a place of cohesion and innovation. It’s a nontraditional, appealing sound, unfettered and open to influences from pop, folk and world traditions.
Parlato and her trio opened this season’s Folly Jazz Series on Saturday night. Tunes unfolded from the bass line, laid down by bassist Alan Hampton or from the left hand of keyboardist Jason Lindner, built on hypnotic grooves. Drummer Marc Guiliana explored his space, seeming to take a separate path at times yet aligning perfectly within the structure.
Parlato, vamped on these grooves, with claps, extended vowel-based lines and percussive vocables of slides and whoops, often expanding the phrases, delaying or denying rhythmic expectations. Her voice blended as another color in the texture, though that also made lyrics difficult to discern from time to time.
Regardless, this multifaceted quartet impressed with complex polyrhythms, morphing textures and finely tuned tempo and energy shifts. While Parlato primarily performed with her eyes closed, the group had an intense, communal listening energy, as though inventing vocabularies, resulting in a lush, expansive complexity.
Pulling from her recorded repertoire, Parlato programmed only a few traditionally regarded jazz tunes — Wayne Shorter’s “JuJu,” Bill Evans’ “Blue in Green,” Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly” — then a few of her own, like “How We Love” and “Circling,” along with Francis Jacob’s “Within Me,” SVW’s R&B hit “Weak” and Simply Red’s “Holding Back,” all projected thought this prism of resonance and rhythms.
Amid a performance of eclectic covers, Paulhino da Viola’s “Alô Alô” was an impressive feat, with the band playing a percussive ground work layered on Parlato’s dual-swinging kashaka (two shakers connected by rope), as she alternated between melody and vocal percussion.
Folk also influenced the performance. She sang duets with Hampton, well matched to perform his tunes “There’s the Side” and “If It Was,” as well as their collaborative composition “Still,” in a stripped-down style while he accompanied on guitar.
The final piece was sourced from a now-famous lullaby a 5-year-old boy from Malawi named Magnus created for his unborn brother. Parlato welcomed the audience to join in the chorus of nonsense syllables, affirming of the power of sweet, simple melody.