No encore for Gretchen Parlato quartet

*** (3 out of 6 stars); October 4 at Jazzhus Montmartre

With two jewels of albums behind her and a highly successful introduction to Copenhagen during the 2010 Jazz Festival, hopes were high for Gretchen Parlato’s three-night visit to the Jazzhus Montmartre starting Thursday October 4.

But expectations and hopes can be a great challenge to meet.  Whether she was worn out after travelling (arriving from New York that morning), suffering from a cold or just working through a creative malaise, Gretchen Parlato failed to meet the high expectations during her first show Thursday night and, even more alarmingly, failed to meet the audience’s minimum requirements for a performer: return for an encore.

As the audience applauded warmly, showing appreciation for a good – but not great – evening of music, Parlato was nowhere to be found. She left the stage ahead of her band, and, after they followed her, bathing a few minutes in sustained clapping, the house lights slowly came on and recorded jazz softly took over the room. It was a greatly anticlimactic moment for an audience that shelled out 475 kroner per ticket to see the cover girl of Montmartre’s fall program.

Before the non-encore, Parlato played well. It often takes musicians a song or two to warm up, so it was unfair to judge Parlato and her band mates (Taylor Eigsti on piano, Burmiss Travis on bass, and Kendrick Scott on drums) by their first number, an acceptable playing of ‘Within Me’ from her second album.  However, by the second tune, the evening started to show promise – the quartet’s interpretation of Simply Red’s ‘Holding Back the Years’ gave a great glimpse into the band’s potential.  An inventive subtlety invaded the proceedings, and the audience was grooving and hopeful for a fantastic show.

It is difficult to surmise what happened from then on out.  Faint flickers of well-arranged, adapted jazz and modern classics – Herbie Hancock’s ‘Butterfly’, Wayne Shorter’s ‘Juju’, SWV’s ‘Weak’ – gave hope for a strong concert, but wound up fading away and running into each other with uneven, sometimes lukewarm performances coupled with a failed connection between headliner and audience.  Her band played well – most notably the pianist Eigsti, who performed a stunning solo on Parlato’s original ‘Winter Wind’ – and the overall musicality of the evening was good. 

One has to hope that this missed opportunity was an aberration. Lauded in jazz circles, Parlato could very well be at a creative crossroads. The sound that was exciting and fresh two years ago may be reaching its limits, or perhaps merely working through a lull on the way to a bright future.  Whatever the case, let’s hope next time Parlato sees fit to return to the stage with renewed purpose – and to give the audience a deserved encore.