The first four minutes and forty nine seconds of Gretchen Parlato’s new CD, In A Dream are nothing short of sublime. These four minutes and forty nine seconds are occupied by “I Can’t Help It,” a duet between Parlato and Lionel Loueke that is so effortless and beautiful that it sounds easy to do. Upon closer attention, it is incredibly complicated: Loueke’s jagged cross-rhythms are a brilliant counterpoint for Parlato’s joyful vocal, and at the end of this track it is assumed that In A Dream will be the feel-good jazz record of the year, an Esperanza for 2009. As it happens, “I Can’t Help It” is only a taste of all of the moods on In A Dream.
Without question, “I Can’t Help It” is one of the two best tracks on the album. The final track, “Weak,” is just as good, but completely different. While “I Can’t Help It” is a completely acoustic, latin-flavored burst of happiness, “Weak” is considerably more ambivalent in tone and has more in common with Robert Glasper’s recent Experiment recording, Double Booked. Both songs are cutting edge, and they show Parlato’s two sides. Other tracks, such as the Jobim cover “Doralice” and “On the Other Side,” show the same face as “I Can’t Help It,” but without the naked joy of that track. Others still, such as a cover of “Butterfly,” are in the vein of “Weak,” but without the same bite.
None of this is to say that In A Dream isn’t a good album. It’s one of the best vocal jazz albums I’ve heard in a long time (at least since Parlato’s debut), and as such is worth buying. Parlato’s voice is incredible; she uses it’s smoky timbre to full advantage and sounds sexy without sounding over the top, and her interaction with the other band members is brilliant. Absolutely worth a listen for anybody, and worth buying for those who enjoy the music of Parlato or Loueke.