by mike collins, jazzyblogman
A pause for breath and a moment of silence in the middle of Ugly Beauty seemed like the magical sweet spot of this gig. It had been heading there from the start of the early set at Ronnie’s. Gretchen Parlato, mic in hand, and Gerald Clayton at the piano were alone on the stage and the magic had descended. Clayton seems to find the purest essence in everything he plays and express it with an economy and elegance that is breathtaking. He had distilled a harmonic shift from Monk’s ballad, rendered it in angular almost classical arpeggios as an intro, and then Parlato’s almost-not-there gossamer vocal traced the unmistakable melody, laden with introspective melancholy, sighing the lyric. That pause was a cue for an exploratory development of melody and harmony by Clayton before they traced the theme again to close.
Luques Curtis and Jonathan Barber returned the stage, and if we weren’t already, then the audience were now well and truly in the palm of the Parlato hand. She had us quietly singing along with a repeating phrase at the end of the liquidly grooving Better Than, a quintessential Parlato original from the back catalogue, with a soul and R&B sensibility transmuted by a sinuous melody line and layers of shifting harmony and rhythm. Magnus, from last year’s release Flor had a joyous spring in its step and another irresistibly tasteful sing-along. Summoned backed to the stage by a rapturous reception, Curtis, Barber and Clayton slipped into the quietly propulsive groove of Circling another selection from 2011’s Lost and Found and the set ended on a dreamy feel good note.
This was the first set of tour that is the first since well before the enforced break of the pandemic and it was utterly compelling. If the first couple of tunes were ‘looseners’, then they were impeccable, but as the band got quieter and grooves and accompaniments more stripped back, the more intense and spellbinding the music got. Clayton infuses magic and surprise, but Curtis and Barber were unshowily locked in and responsive. Holding Back The Year as Simply Red couldn’t have dreamed it got an angular Clayton intro, and the collective reading of Herbie Hancock’s Butterfly was pure magic. This Tuesday night treat is going to take something special to top it, any day of the week.