Youth and creativity on display
By Don Heckman
Los Angeles Times
Oct 7, 2006

The future of jazz is alive and well in the hands of artists such as Gretchen Parlato and Lionel Loueke. Graduates of the Thelonious Monk Institute program at USC, they have emerged in the last two years as intrepid musical seekers -- Parlato for her unique vocal style, Loueke for his imaginative guitar playing and vocalizing.

Together, as they were Thursday at the Vic in Santa Monica, they make an irresistibly engaging musical combination. Performing with no accompaniment (other than some occasional electronic enhancement of Loueke's guitar), they filled the room with sound and rhythm, warmly sharing the pleasures of youth, creativity and an ever- apparent love of music.

Parlato's voice was a flowing, mobile instrument. At times it blended seamlessly with Loueke's guitar, often in tandem with Loueke's singing. At other times, her warm sound -- a persuasive blend of innocence and irony -- found the heart of tunes such as Duke Ellington's rarely heard "Azure."

Her superb renderings of Brazilian material surfaced in a delightful take on Djavan's "Flor de Lis" and a marvelously jaunty romp through Dorival Caymmi's "Doralice." And everything she sang revealed her capacity to become immersed in the music without losing her own interpretive way.

Loueke's playing and singing can be described only as remarkable. In his hands, the guitar was a virtual orchestra, surging with percussion effects, throbbing with rich, often dark harmonies, blending with his scat singing in sudden bursts of bebop pleasures.

And that was only the start.

In the Brazilian tunes, his samba rhythms had the pure ring of authenticity, enlivened by the traditional grounding of his West African (Benin) roots. Jazz numbers such as Herbie Hancock's "Butterfly" and a combined version of Wayne Shorter's "Ju-Ju" and "Footprints" -- like so many other pieces in this stunning program -- brought new life to familiar works.

In fact, Hancock, who played on Loueke's upcoming CD, "Virgin Forest" (on the adventurous Obliqsound label), was in the audience, enjoying every minute.

And when he was invited on stage to jam with Parlato and Loueke, he happily obliged, producing yet another magical moment -- an instant coming together of his vital, imaginative maturity with the no-holds-barred creative audacity of the younger players. There couldn't have been a more fitting climax to a most memorable musical evening.

Credit: Special to The Times

(Copyright (c) 2006 Los Angeles Times)

For more information: gretchenparlato.com