Verbrugghen Hall, June 3

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Gretchen Parlato. Photo: Anthony Browell.

Whether in politics, broadcasting, plays, films or music, we live in an era where bluster, gaucheness and antagonism trump subtlety, nuance and simple beauty. But Gretchen Parlato is fighting back. Well, not exactly fighting. She’s showing that there’s another way. Rather than trying to make herself and her work larger than life, as is now common, the American jazz singer champions what could be described as a smaller-than-life ethos. And perhaps that’s the size that life really is, anyway.

The consequence is that listening to Parlato requires a reset. Those that hunger for grand gestures will be disappointed, because hers is the art of intimacy. She sings softly and silkily in a breathy, slightly girlish voice, has a natural affinity for Brazilian music, and shows a flair for incorporating intricate rhythmic devices.

This is chamber jazz where the chamber would ideally be about the size of my living room, rather than the rather cavernous Verbrugghen Hall during Sydney Con International Jazz Festival, and for the opening songs her voice was submerged in the mix, despite her collaborators’ disciplined dynamics. Just Flor’s instrumentation speaks of restraint: guitar (Marcel Camargo), cello (Artyom Manukyan) and percussion (Leo Costa). Such a line-up immediately suggests that shouting is not exactly on the agenda; that slippery rhythms, whispered textures and pretty melodies are.

The pinnacle of Parlato’s vision came on a reimagining of one of David Bowie’s last songs, No Plan, which she stripped of its darkness and something of its desolation, and made it quietly confessional, floating on a rhythm as insistent and natural as water tumbling over a small creek’s rapids. Another highlight was an original she co-wrote called What Does a Lion Say?, featuring a glorious arco solo from Manuyan, the most compelling member of a trio that, while commendably deploying restraint, could also flirt with insipidity. And Parlato, herself, for all the gentle enchantment, was never going to stop your heart. But then maybe making decorative, miniaturist art is a worthy end in itself these days.