Gretchen Parlato and Lionel Loueke: Lean In review – a winning partnership between old friends

The American singer and Benin guitarist join forces on a languid mix of bossa nova, power ballads – and Foo Fighters

Gretchen Parlato’s previous album, 2021’s Flor, saw her widely acclaimed as the outstanding jazz voice of the times. After several years when her career was put on hold for motherhood, Flor was a remarkable comeback, an alluring mix of Brazilian samba and chamber cello, with Parlato’s featherlight vocals skipping between Bach and Bowie’s posthumous No Plan. Lean In is less musically adventurous but equally winning, a partnership with the well-travelled Benin guitarist Lionel Loueke, best known for his work with Herbie Hancock; the pair are old friends, fellow travellers ascending through New York’s jazz hierarchy.

It’s a spare, almost languid set, driven by effortlessly funky codas from Loueke’s guitar, with some discreet percussion by Mark Guiliana (Parlato’s husband). Vocal duties are swapped and shared. There are dreamy Brazilian echoes of Astrud Gilberto and Carlos Jobim on Astronauta, a Brazilian standard from the bossa nova era, but the palette is wide, embracing west Africa, R&B – I Miss You, an 80s power ballad by Klymaxx – and even a Foo Fighters cover. Loueke provides vocal yips and clicks, Parlato sings with unshowy elan, always sensuous and involving, while the duo’s joint vocals on opener Akwe are positively joyous. A treat.

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