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Glasgow Jazz Festival 2011

Tron Theatre, Saturday 2nd July

The first thing to be said about Gretchen Parlato’s performance at the Tron is: what a great band she has! They’re not just uber-competent session players: they’re a real swinging, improvising jazz trio of the highest order. So take a bow Clarence Penn (drums), Alan Hampton (bass and acoustic guitar) and Taylor Eigsti (piano and keyboards).

As for Parlato herself, she’s a proper jazz singer, who’s not scared to launch into extended wordless extemporisation during several numbers. She’s got a fairly small voice, a bit reminiscent of Astrid Gilberto’s, and didn’t show off any great range, but she uses her voice exceptionally well. Just occasionally I’d have liked her to step back from the mike and sing out a bit, but she doesn’t have that sort of voice, being in the Billie Holiday/Norma Winstone tradition than the Ella Fitzgerald/Sarah Vaughan one. She’s also got a great sense of rhythm, which displayed itself not just in her singing, but in her occasional percussion playing.

The set avoided the Great American Songbook: there were lots of originals, plus versions of Wayne Shorter’s “JuJu” and Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly” to which she’d fitted lyrics and a Brazilian song which she sang in Portuguese. There were a couple of songs which I thought didn’t quite work: Simply Red’s “Holding Back the Years” is a good song, but she didn’t take the opportunity to stretch out on it; and the duet she sang with Alan Hampton (temporarily switching to acoustic guitar) just seemed a bit out of place. It was a very pleasant acoustic pop song, written by Hampton, but didn’t work in the context of the concert. That’s a fairly minor criticism, but my one fear is that for commercial reasons she’ll drift too much into middle-of-the-road acoustic AOR and away from jazz. She should stick to jazz: she really is very good at it, with the potential to become an outstanding “voice as horn soloist” improviser.

My other small gripe is that it was a fairly short concert: she was on stage for about 70 minutes including encore. If she didn’t want to sing for longer than that, it would have been good to let the band play a few numbers on their own. As I said at the beginning, they were very good indeed.

I suspect this was the only chance I’ll have to see Parlato play a smallish theatre at an affordable price. She’s almost certainly going to be very successful indeed, and despite my nitpicking above, she deserves to be.