Hailed as one of the most unique voices on the NYC jazz scene for over two decades, Alexis Parsons scored a fascinating coup of dual critical acclaim in 2012 when her self-titled solo debut was named one of DownBeat Magazine’s best CDs of the year and she also released the vocal-piano duets album Hippin’ with Connie Crothers.
A decade is a long time to wait for sensual magic to spring forth again, but her long awaited follow-up, simply titled Alexis, will quickly pick up the momentum where those two gems left off. As before, and as always when playing live, she’s in fantastic hands with two stellar trios – six tunes with David Berkman (piano), Drew Gress (bass) and Matt Wilson (drums), five with Arturo O’Farrill (piano), Jonathan Gilley (bass) and Willard Dyson (drums).
Besides that rangy and emotional, imminently inviting voice that soothes sensually on dreamy ballad arrangements like “Make It Last” and amps up the hipster cool on lighthearted swingers a la “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most,” one of the most compelling elements of the eclectic project is the singer’s unique choice of material.
She bookends everything with lush arrangements of Cole Porter classics, starting with the lively, up-tempo opener “Easy to Love” and wrapping with the expansive, atmospheric eight minute closer “In the Still of the Night, which features a lengthy piano solo by Berkman that is the epitome of improvised dramatic elegance.
To date, she is probably the only interpreter to balance somewhat expected Songbook standards like the Porter tunes or “Summertime” (given a deeply mystical treatment) with delightful obscurities by Astrud Gilberto (a lilting, richly poetic “Gentle Rain”) and, most uniquely of all, a haunting eight and a half minute meditation on Schubert’s “Organ Grinder” that includes O’Farrill’s twinkling piano harmonies and a bowed lamenting intro by Gilley. It’s all very fascinating, so here’s hoping that Parsons will follow-up this adventurous date sooner than later.