Flor is a masterpiece... a welcome and profound return. Parlato and her collaborators dig under and through stylistic and genre conventions, then emerge with a jazz language of their own that embraces the world's sounds and emotions, and translates them flawlessly with warmth, intimacy, poetry, and humor.
Flor marks vocalist and songwriter Gretchen Parlato's first recording in eight years. After 2013's Live in NYC, she and husband/drummer Mark Giuliana became parents to a son, Marley. Immersed in motherhood, she integrated her life and musical experiences, all the while contemplating her next creative step. Flor is it: a compelling synthesis of originals, pop covers, Brazilian standards, and classical music performed by a new international quartet. It includes Brazilian guitarist and musical director Marcel Camargo, Brazilian drummer Leo Costa, and Armenian cellist/bassist Artyom Manukyan. Parlato produced the nine-song set.
She references the past immediately on opener "É Preciso Perdoar." A hit for João Gilberto in 1973, Parlato's world changed when she first him singing at age 13. She fell in love with his simple, intimate, yet intricately detailed delivery and laid-back style. She presents the song with North African harmonic and rhythmic overtones from open-tuned guitars and droning cello atop a spectral percussion line. Her delivery adds drama, sensuality, and pathos to its lyric of unrequited love. Parlato offers a thoroughly updated read of Anita Baker's "Sweet Love" with Gerald Clayton guesting on Rhodes piano. She stretches the soul tune to the margins of poppy funk using the lyric's promise of abundance and fulfillment to guide her vocal. Parlato wrote "Magnus," for her best friend's son (he and his siblings all sing on it). Her 13/8 bass line and hooky melody reflect South African township jazz and the melodic and rhythmic ideas of Beninese guitarist Lionel Loueke, who worked with her for a decade. That track and "What Does a Lion Say?," composed by bassist Chris Morrissey, represent the lyric heart of Parlato's maternal vocation. Both are vulnerable, emotionally resonant, and intimate lullabies with glorious instrumental interplay between guitar and cello; Costa's beats underscore their melodies with rhythmic inflection points. Roy Hargrove's "Roy Allan" is offered as a samba tribute to the late trumpeter. Parlato's layered and stacked vocal choruses are transcendent, accented and expanded by fleet acoustic guitars, crystalline bass, and a whirlwind of organic percussion provided by guest Airto Moreira. Single "Wonderful" is a jaunty pop song that features Clayton and Giuliana. Its Afro-Brazilian rhythms bubble and groove under a sparkling, highlife-esque pop melody elucidated by an infectious hook. Parlato closes the set with an arresting version of David Bowie's "No Plan" from his posthumous EP of the same name. Her vocal drips with longing and desire as the protagonist resolves to experience the bardo, the place between as an eternal present, a "no place," of her own. Her want, confusion, and determination inhabit every syllable as electronics and Giuliana's drum kit frame her singing while Manukyan's manipulated cello accents it.
In sum, Flor is a welcome and profound return. Parlato and her collaborators dig under and through stylistic and genre conventions, then emerge with a jazz language of their own that embraces the world's sounds and emotions, and translates them flawlessly with warmth, intimacy, poetry, and humor. Flor is a masterpiece.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek