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Gretchen Parlato: Living 'In A Dream'

Gretchen Parlato set a standard at the Thelonious Monk Institute for Jazz Performance by becoming the first singer in a program conceived largely for instrumentalists. Her instructors — Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Terence Blanchard — may have guided her during that time, but the command of her instrument is now hers alone.

In a Dream, her new recording, is a remarkable outing for Parlato, as she brings together current and former members of Blanchard's band: Pianist Aaron Parks, guitarist Lionel Loueke, bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Kendrick Scott are all prime movers in the next round of major jazz improvisers. They're rewriting the rules of music for their generation. Parlato and her fellow musicians interpret songs from Stevie Wonder (as sung by Michael Jackson), '90s pop sensation SWV, Hancock, Shorter, even the Swiss guitarist Francis Jacob.

Parlato brought a different trio to The Checkout, and the music got a new treatment, as well. In this WBGO session, we hear "I Can't Help It" from Jackson's Off the Wall. Dorival Caymmi's beautiful "Doralice" was a beautiful samba with saxophonist Stan Getz and bossa nova legend Joao Gilberto; here, it becomes a duet between singer and drummer. Few vocalists would want that kind of challenge, but Parlato (clapping her hands and singing in Portuguese) makes quite a silhouette against Jamire Williams' one-man samba school.

The last song, "In a Dream," was co-written by Parlato and bassist Alan Hampton (who appears on this session). Gerald Clayton, son of bassist John Clayton, translates his deft touch to Fender Rhodes.

Parlato defies easy categorization as a vocalist. She has a gift for being just a member of the band, a role reserved for few singers. She has what it takes to live up to the expectations and performance levels of her contemporaries. She has the goods, and that's no dream.

Originally recorded Aug. 17, 2009.

Listen to the previous Favorite Session, or see our full archive.

Copyright 2009 WBGO

Josh Jackson is the associate general manager for content at WRTI in Philadelphia.