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Gretchen Parlato: Jazz From Soul

Jazz interpretations of R&B tunes aren't anything new. Still, early-'90s New Jack Swing seems like unlikely source material for winning jazz improvisation. Singer Gretchen Parlato, however, chooses wisely with her glowing makeover of SWV's 1992 hit "Weak."

Superbly re-arranged by pianist Robert Glasper, Parlato's "Weak" receives a rhythmic pulse that's elastic and pneumatic by comparison, sometimes evoking the feel of bossa nova. Parlato's feather-light voice aptly captures the essence of the song's themes of romantic anxiety and anticipation, yet she also conveys a level of maturity in her sensual but no-frills delivery.

The magic in Parlato's version has a lot to do with what she doesn't do. Notably, she doesn't oversell the words with flashy vocalese, nor does she instill the original with a smug, knowing wink. Instead, she relies on the conviction of her artistry — and on the song's inherent beauty.

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John Murph
John Murph writes about music and culture and works as a web producer for BETJazz.com. He also contributes regularly to The Washington Post Express, JazzTimes, Down Beat, and JazzWise magazines.