Old school, new school

By JON GARELICK  |  October 8, 2009

If you’ve never heard of “I Could Have Told You,” that’s by design. Of the 15 tunes on Common Thread (including two instrumentals), only the Gershwins’ “They All Laughed” and Rodgers & Hart’s “There’s a Small Hotel” come even close to being true standards.

“Nobody needs another version of ‘My Funny Valentine’ or ‘Someone To Watch over Me,’ ” says Carr. Hadley — with his encyclopedic knowledge of songs and singers — was key in helping with repertoire. But he in turn was aided by Carr’s instincts and taste. “When I looked up ‘Something Wonderful Happens in Summer,’ ” she points out, “I found that no one ever recorded it but Sinatra. It was written for him by Joe Bushkin.”

What also sets this album apart from other standards records are those charts by veteran arrangers like Freedman, Adi Yeshaya, Rick Hammett, and Dick Lowell (who conducted the band sessions). Hadley: “There are big-name singers out there with records where the arrangements are just cops of Nelson Riddle. I mean, Sinatra already sang that record, you know what I’m saying? I was on the phone one night with Dick talking about an arrangement, and he said, ‘I get it, man, you don’t want anything to have even a whiff of a record copy.’”

These arrangements — by writers who know both the singer and the ace players — and the production by Hadley bring out the lush, sensual pleasure of big-band music. “I don’t need to hear the third trumpet player,” Hadley argues. “I want to hear the blend of the section.” The same goes for mixing Carr’s vocals. “We didn’t want it to sound like she was in another area code. We wanted her close to the band, and let the chips fall where they may.” After all, he adds, “She has the pipes.”

Kenny Hadley and Amanda Carr

Parlato is in some ways Carr’s opposite: a thoroughly schooled jazz singer, she began studying with vocalist Tierney Sutton right out of high school in Los Angeles, and she spent two years in the intensive Thelonious Monk Institute after winning the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition. Living in New York for the past few years, she’s been moving in fast company, collaborating regularly with the likes of pianist Robert Glasper and Lionel Loueke.

In a Dream covers everything from Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, and Duke Ellington to hit ’90s R&B vocal group SWV, with a wordless vocal arrangement of Wayne Shorter’s “E.S.P.” and pieces by New York songwriter friends Francis Jacob and Alan Hampton. Parlato’s group sound on the CD — based on either Loueke’s guitar and rhythmic vocalizing or Aaron Parks’s keyboards — is as distinctive as her singing. On Jacob’s “Within Me,” it’s the combination of fast fluttering brushwork by drummer Kendrick Scott against Park’s evenly spaced impressionistic chords and bassist Derrick Hodge’s spare movements in and out of the vamp that creates the overall hypnotic effect, along with Parlato’s breathy, pastel-colored, beautifully controlled singing.

Hypnotic and, yes, “dreamy” are most often the operatives in Parlato’s music. Over the phone from New York, she tells me that the discovery of Getz/Gilberto in her mother’s record collection planted the seed. “It was Gilberto’s voice — the whole approach, his tone and simplicity and the intimacy of his sound. It was similar to how I would want to sing music or feel music.”

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