Gretchen Parlato & Lionel Loueke Lean In – Edition Records

“lifts the spirits like helium inside rubber balloons”

Parlato & Loueke offer the listener a contemporary duet, blending two individually talented artists with a collaboration that explores cultures and techniques.  They begin with just the two of them, exploring melodies and rhythms that mirror the African subtleties and America’s jazz/pop culture.  Parlato and Loueke have been close friends for twenty-plus years, and you can hear their warmth and camaraderie in this production.  Lionel Loueke has composed this first song titled, “Akwe” and I wondered if it would set the tone for this album.  His West African Roots shine through. However, the very next tune is a pop song, reinvented by Loueke and Parlato with their sparse, but interesting arrangement. They add Mark Guiliana on drums to drive the rhythm beneath Gretchen’s voice.  She sounds very commercially pop on this song, but the track is quite folksy.  These two artists make me want to know more about their cultural backgrounds and musical choices to truly understand this album.  The composition, “If I Knew” is joyful, with lyrics full of questions about life and living.  Parlato has composed this tune and it’s full of energy, with a melody that lifts the spirits like helium inside rubber balloons. Burniss Travis is featured brightly on electric bass and the drums of Mark Guiliana put the “P” in party. Loueke’s rhythm guitar strokes Parlato’s voice on the song, “Astroanauta” that reminds me of space, stars, and other universes.  Parlato sings in another language, perhaps Portuguese.  It certainly sounds like she and Lionel have borrowed a page from a Brazilian songbook for this performance.  Throughout their production, both artists sing in a variety of languages.  They explore chants incorporated with jazz scats that become vocal melodies in place of piano or horns.  I wish the booklet tucked inside the CD jacket had explained more about the languages, the song histories and countries that this music represents.  There’s a story to uncover here that is not shared in their press package or the liner notes and perhaps should be.

Gretchen Parlato, voice/percussion; Lionel Loueke, guitar/voice/percussion; Mark Guiliana, drums/percussion; Burniss Travis, electric bass; Marley Guiliana & Lisa Loueke, voices.