Handling Sneaky Rhythms as Singer or Bandleader


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Gretchen Parlato became a presence in New York jazz five years ago, around the time she won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition. At the time she seemed to work best in collaboration: she played often with the guitarist Lionel Loueke in performances that nearly merged their sensibilities, and she turned up for a song on other people’s records — Terence Blanchard, Esperanza Spalding, Kenny Barron, Mr. Loueke. There was always some warm egolessness in her performances: for sure, she was singing for and with each band, making clear the notion of the voice as an instrument.

But really leading a band is a whole other refinement, and more recently she’s achieved it. At the 55 Bar in Greenwich Village, where she’s been singing almost weekly for several years, she led a band in an early show on Friday, singing newer things in her repertory. Some will be on her next album, “In a Dream,” coming out in August. Typically, she gave over about a quarter of her gig to someone else: Dayna Stephens, a resourceful young tenor saxophone player.

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