cist on “WhatDoesALion Say,” a silverywaltz by bassist Chris Morrissey, offset with a dark osti- nato, sweeping arco cello lines and acoustic hand percussion. On this gorgeous tune, Parlato pon- ders the ephemera of parenthood—this time in wonder at her child’s rapidmetamorphosis. “It hit me the other day, how the image of a flower is the perfect symbol for mindfulness, for being in the moment,” she said, discussing the album’s recurring theme. “You have to be appre- ciative of all the stages of its growth. When it finally blooms, it’s a perfect thing that only lasts for a short time, and then it goes into another form. If I try to hold on, I feel the suffering [that comes from] wanting things to stay the same.” Parlato also contributed compositions to the project—two songs that exult with youthful ela- tion, even as they impart sophisticated jazz con- cepts. She wrote the openhearted “Magnus,” with its tricky 13/8 bass line, froman impromptu lullaby sung by a friend’s preschooler to his soon- to-be-born brother. Parlato brought the real-life Magnus, now a teenager, and his younger sib- lings—Thaddeus and Ashley—into the studio to record the tune’s twining, layered chorus. Parlato later explores the concept of a child’s inner world on her tune “Wonderful,” released as the album’s first single in late 2020. Clean and direct, the track’s repeated hook, backed by the crisp rhythm section, becomes a mantra of self-affirmation as it passes fromParlato to a chil- dren’s chorus. The children—all related to the band members in some way—feel no hesitation in asserting their inherent value through extem- poraneous spoken word. (Guests on the track include Guiliana and pianist Gerald Clayton.) “‘Wonderful’ is essentially about what [Marley] represents as a child. When we’re young, we feel invincible. We know how amaz- ingwe are andwe say it all the time,” Parlato said. “But there’s something that happens as we age, where we stop saying it, and maybe stop feeling it.This song is a reminder for adults, too, to know your value and your worth.” In contrast with the original compositions and their purposeful lyrics, two selections on the album show off Parlato’s virtuosity with wordless, straight-toned vocalizing: “Rosa,” by Brazilian choro composer Pixinguinha, and Bach’s “Cello Suite No. 1, BWV 1007: Minuet I/II.” Parlato’s voice lies at its most exposed on these tracks, as she doubles Manukyan’s pizzi- cato cello on the Pixinguinha tune and sings a cappella for almost two minutes on the Bach piece.These classical performances—voice inter- twined with strings in shifting combinations— are exquisite in their simplicity. Credit for these conceptual pieces goes to Camargo, who not only suggested them to Parlato, but also proposed using cello instead of bass throughout the album. “Traditionally, there is no bass in Brazilian music. People play a seven-string guitar, which
Gretchen Parlato (left), Dayna Stephens and Lionel Loueke perform at The Jazz Gallery in New York in 2015.
To understand the magnitude of this depar- ture from the spotlight, consider Parlato’s career trajectory pre-motherhood: She performed with jazz greats Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Terence Blanchard while still a student at UCLA. She won the 2004 Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Vocals Competition and released her self-titled album the following year. Her subsequent albums— InADream (2009) and The Lost And Found (2011)—generated glow- ing reviews, and she topped the category Rising Star–Female Vocalist in the 2011 DownBeat Critics Poll. Not surprisingly, those early years ofMarley’s life were something of “a blur,” Parlato recalled. But as the pressures of new parenthood eased over time, she began to muse about the inter- ruption to her artistic life. These musings in turn prompted a wealth of new material that tapped into Parlato’s deep feelings about becoming a mother—melodies with lullaby strains, lyrics about change and acceptance, choruses ringing with joy at newfound wonders. “Once Marley turned 3 or 4, I could finally pen the lyrics about this precious time,” Parlato explained. “I hadn’t given myself time to write about it, because it felt very private. Sometimes, it’s easier towrite about heartbreak, though that’s private, too. But this was good and joyous, so I felt protective about it. It took some time for me to put it into words.” While the compositions took shape, Parlato started to pull together that Brazilian-focused group with Camargo. Such an ensemble would afford a natural returnboth to performing and to the gently swaying songs that had proved foun- dational to her development as a vocalist. For the resultant album, which also features drummer-percussionist Léo Costa and cellist Artyom Manukyan, Parlato chose the name Flor , the Portuguese word for “flower.” As both a descriptor for the group’s delicately crafted sound and a metaphor for Parlato’s artistic process, this name holds great meaning for the vocalist. “The imagery of a flower is so profound to me,” Parlato said. “I was thinking of a plant that is dormant in the winter, where there’s noth- ing happening. It seems to be gone. That’s how
it felt when I took time off for motherhood. I was thinking, ‘Where did she go? Where’s the cre- ativity? The album? The touring?’ I knew it was still there, that it [would] come back again.” Parlato’s artistic renaissance began with a fewgigs toplay thenewmaterial “here and there,” she said, in Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and New York. To prepare for them, she turned to Camargo—who’d signed on as musical direc- tor—to arrange a mixed repertoire that ventured beyond fresh originals and treasured Brazilian standards into jazz settings of European clas- sical music and surprising refurbishments of American pop songs. These tunes, personalized to Parlato’s minimalist aesthetic, would consti- tute the group’s program for both its tours and inaugural release. “There’s always an essence in the original [tune] that should be protected. I try to find that first—it’s the thing that draws me to the materi- al,” Parlato said about her approach to new rep- ertoire. “But as much as I love the original piece, it wouldn’t make sense if I did an exact imita- tion. So, I use a method where I first deconstruct a song, then reconstruct it. “The deconstruction comes with finding the purest melody and harmony and structure [of a piece]. I get to that bare-bones state, and then everything that I use in reconstructing it comes frommy vision, my story. I try to find that beau- tiful balance between honoring what the song is and doing something different, so that people can hear it in a newway. ” In listening to “É Preciso Perdoar,” Flor’s first track, one can hear the bits that constitute its essence—the lilting melody, the wistful lyrics, the mesmeric polyrhythm. As Parlato weaves her own English-language text in with the orig- inal Portuguese, she amplifies the melancholy threaded throughout the song made famous by João Gilberto in 1973. This aesthetic choice brings to the fore a truth about Brazilian music: Much of its beauty derives from the implacable longing it conveys. But mothers’ laments—like Parlato’s here— are rarely, if ever, expressed in jazz, Brazilian or otherwise. She continues to distinguish herself as a lyri-
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