Vocalist Gretchen Parlato and Guitarist Lionel Loueke team up on ‘Lean In’ due out May 19, 2023 via Edition Records
Edition Records is proud to announce the May 19, 2023 release of Lean In, the new collaborative album from vocalist-arranger Gretchen Parlato and guitarist-vocalist Lionel Loueke. Rooted in freedom, spontaneity, and impulse, Lean In showcases the earthy connection and palpable synergy of two musical collaborators and friends. Conceptualized, written, and recorded while in the grips of a global pandemic, the soul-stirring set bears the various and tense loads of the last three years, all while Parlato and Loueke remain decidedly vulnerable and charismatic.
The two met in 2001 at The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 2003, both musicians cut their teeth on New York City’s jazz circuit, often playing duo concerts, or inviting one another as guests within larger ensembles. Over the next three years, they both would emerge as major artists on the rise, with Loueke working with luminaries like Terence Blanchard and Herbie Hancock and Parlato winning first place in the 2004 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition, gaining the attention and mentorship of Wayne Shorter and others. Parlato and Loueke continued to appear on each other’s respective projects, both offering a pan-genre approach to their artistry with global influences as the cornerstone of their expression.
Lean In evolved between Luxembourg and Los Angeles, where the two respectively reside, as the two artists traded song ideas over the internet. Within four months of the process, Parlato and Loueke were in a Los Angeles studio, rounding out the band with two of the most versatile musicians of their respective instruments, bassist Burniss Travis and drummer Mark Guiliana. Performed in English, Portuguese, and Fon (the indigenous language of Benin), the songs formulate brilliant soundscapes from pop and R&B classics to Afrobeat and Brazilian tunes that, once amalgamated, defy categorization.
The album opener, “Akwê,” begins with Loueke and Parlato singing a joyful, syncopated melody in unison before Loueke laces the melody with familiar progressions heard in traditional West African music and pairs this with his stunning mouth percussion. The lyrics translate, in part, to “Money can help us, but it does not resolve everything. Find your happiness, passion, purpose and follow your dreams to find true contentment.” An early established sentiment of the album which captures the wisdom acquired over the last three years.
Parlato’s sublime rework of the 1984 hit “I Miss You” from the all-women ’80s funk band Klymaxx follows. A childhood favorite of Parlato, the song was entirely unfamiliar to Loueke, who builds a rhapsodic harmonic structure resulting in a more tender take on the original power ballad, its sentiment garnering new meaning as circumstances of the pandemic indefinitely distanced families, friends, and loved ones.
Originally written for a project commissioned by The Jazz Gallery as part of their Fellowship Program in 2019, the lyrics for “If I Knew” play with various oppositions of concept over a deliciously funked-out Afrobeat dance track, adding the invigorating sounds of Travis and Guiliana into the fold.
A trio of entrancing interludes, “Okagbé,” “Mi Wa Sé,” and “Dou Wé,” weave through the set as swirling atmospherics, the latter two based on instrumental improvisations by Loueke, Travis, and Guiliana. With melodies by Parlato and lyrics by Loueke, they serve as literal invitations. The first to listen, the second to dance. “Mi Wa Sé” features Parlato and Guiliana’s young son, Marley, on lead vocals.
At the heart of the album sits “Astronauta,” written by composers Carlos Pingarilho and Marcos Vasconcellos. One of the earliest Brazilian pieces Parlato learned, it receives an exquisite treatment from Parlato and Loueke, whose ethereal vocal solo serves as a major highlight in this pensive, tender rendition.
A fan favorite, Loueke’s composition “Nonvignon” is perhaps most emblematic of the connection between him and Parlato, as it represents their earliest revelation of the joy and magic they could co-create. Translating to “Good Brother,” “Nonvignon” is the African name bestowed upon Loueke, and it holds within it a noble message. “We are one family,” says Loueke. “We have the mind, the heart, and the imagination, and we have to use this gift to love [and protect] each other.”
Co-written by Parlato, Loueke, and Guiliana, and built around Guiliana’s progressive percussion loop, “Lean In” reflects their creative methodology during the pandemic. “The order you hear each of us enter, is essentially how the piece was composed. Mark created a percussion track, I wrote melody and lyric over it, and Lionel added harmony and his vocal.” says Parlato. “It was a true three-way collaboration.”
“Painful Joy” is a beautiful, haunting piece that features Parlato and Loueke singing an enchanting melody in unison, with the harmony moving through minor thirds. The song is inspired by life’s contradictions in navigating the pain of human loss and the ways it insisted we find inspiration. “It forced us to take a break and let the Earth breathe a little more,” says Loueke. “I started hearing birds that I never heard before in my neighborhood because we were in lockdown.” There is a mournfulness that shifts with a minor to major transition and the addition of warm handclaps, offering a hope through the pain. “We are leaving the planet to the next generation…it’s up to each of us to do our part.”
The album closes with “Walking After You,” the Dave Grohl composition from the 1997 The Foo Fighters release, The Colour and the Shape. After over two decades with The Foo Fighters, drummer Taylor Hawkins passed away in March of 2022. “We recorded in March, and he died in April,” says Parlato. “It wasn’t a tribute song to him at that time, but after Taylor passed, the song took on a different meaning.”
As with all of life, the meaning in our work, our thoughts and ideas can and do shift with time and perspective. With Lean In, Loueke and Parlato celebrate, contemplate, mourn, and rejoice the events of their 20 year journey as friends and collaborators who remain in awe of one another, through the tenets of their message, their playfulness, their enchanting sound, and rhythmic complexity laced with wit and dexterity — imbuing the songs with a timeless relevance for all who listen for years to come.
- I Miss You
- If I Knew (feat. Burniss Travis and Mark Guiliana)
- Mi Wa Sé Interlude (feat. Marley Guiliana and Burniss Travis)
- Lean In (feat. Mark Guiliana)
- Painful Joy
- Dou Wé Interlude (feat. Burniss Travis and Mark Guiliana)
- Walking After You