Music journalist Jeff Tamarkin recently spoke with singer Gretchen Parlato and guitarist and singer Lionel Loueke ahead of their March 9 Zankel Hall concert.
If Gretchen Parlato and Lionel Loueke's March 9 duo concert at Zankel Hall were to be given a name, they might think about calling it "An Evening of Risk." Vocalist Parlato and guitarist Loueke, in their respective careers, have both displayed a bold fearlessness in their approach to music making. When they join forces and feed off of one another, there's simply no telling where they might go. With the addition of special guest Becca Stevens, a similarly innovative vocalist and multi-instrumentalist who also knows no bounds, the potential is infinite.
The bonds between them are thick. Parlato and Loueke have performed and recorded together on numerous occasions since they first met in 2001, when both were auditioning to attend the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz in Los Angeles. "He was second to last at the audition and I was last," remembers Parlato. "We were sitting around in that very focused but excited, nervous pre-audition state where you're in your own head but very aware of everybody else."
Both were accepted and spent the next two years working together. Since then, having settled in New York, each has turned the world of jazz upside down. LA-native Parlato has recorded three award-winning albums thus far as a leader, including last year's critically praised The Lost and Found, and has contributed to dozens of others. Loueke, born in the African nation of Benin, has released four albums under his own name, most recently 2010's Mwaliko, and has worked with Herbie Hancock, among many others.
About Parlato, Loueke says, "She's always going for the unknown. She has her own style. Her sense of rhythm is amazing. She stretches the harmony, and she has great ears. I can be myself when I play with her. It's like we are two voices completing each other. Gretchen is my musical soul mate."
Parlato returns the compliment and also lavishes praise on Stevens, with whom she has often collaborated since they met in 2006. "We think the same way about music," Parlato says about Stevens, whose 2011 Weightless album received rave reviews. The prospect of the trio creating new music together without further accompaniment excites Parlato.
"There's something profound about having three different energies, three people who can all sing and all play," Parlato says. "We all have something unique and different, but we're all in the same head space of wanting to create beautiful, powerful music. We're really trying to make it an experience," she adds about the Carnegie Hall gig. "In our rehearsals, we've been coming up with new ideas of things we can do together. We're all so excited, and this is just the beginning of the possibilities."
Jeff Tamarkin is the associate editor of JazzTimes magazine.
Related: March 9, Gretchen Parlato and Lionel Loueke