Oz Fest: Parrott Sisters at Sweet Rhythm
“ The Parrott Sisters ”
Parrott Sisters at Sweet Rhythm
New York City
May 2, 2004
Some NYC gigs are prepackaged showcases that masquerade as jazz. Go back the next night and you will hear the same thing again, pretty much note for note. Likewise, there are hour-long commercials for the latest pabulum calling itself jazz; smoothed edges slickly produced to enable mass appeal. Then, there is the real deal. The word spreads among working musicians that a special night of music is in the offing. The ingredients are a small club, great acoustics and musicians who are willing to take some chances but who are most of all, “players”. The audience is heavy with musicians and a communal spirit takes over the room breaking down the barriers between audience and stage. Such a gig is the purest definition of jazz. At Greenwich Village’s Sweet Rhythm, the Parrott sisters, in a rare joint appearance, recently re-solidified this timeless definition. Bassist Nicki and alto/baritone saxophonist Lisa co-led a two set session that also featured fellow Australian Cathy Harley on piano and drummer Dion Parson. The evening blended wide-ranging styles that included bop, swing, classical, folk, world and standards with Australian roots coalescing into a show that was expansive in scope yet focused in musicality.
Cuts off their joint CD; The Awabakal Suite , newly composed music by each leader as well as several standards and Aussie surprises made for a memorable gig. Nicki led the band through intriguing changes and her depth of experience with mainstream notables such as Jonhnny Frigo, Les Paul, Skitch Henderson, and Bucky Pizzarelli kept things focused while her “wild side” was the perfect foil for Virgin Islander Parson’s intriguing drumming that mixed straight ahead jazz with worldly rhythms and augmentation. Lisa brought her varied swing and bop expertise, most notable in her work with big band Diva smack dab into the mix. She pushed the band to its limits as she expanded standards such as Monk’s “Evidence”. Lisa can bop her baritone and swing her sax with the best of them, numbers like her Ornette Coleman inspired composition “Six Nettes” and their take on Bird, “Gynecology”, were the perfect platform for her to lead the band to its limits.
Cathy Harley displayed a wonderful touch coupled with some lightning fast runs to round out the group sound. She is a melodic player who is also comfortable straying to lead the proceedings to new places. Memorable exchanges were the norm as on the catchy Lisa Parrott tune “Amblin”. Its composer opened with a sweet sax statement of the lightly swinging melody, followed by an extended bass solo off the melody that led to some adventuresome piano work that Nicki brought back to the underlying rhythm to then be taken further out by Lisa and back again by Cathy. Nicki has become an extraordinarily emotive bassist seemingly extending her instrument’s range to convey the subtlest of sentiments. Her self penned “Second Chances” had the room hanging on every note as its graceful flow snaked around each table and enveloped the audience. Dion Parson’s tasteful cymbal enhancements made the tune one of the evening’s many standouts. With no apologies necessary to Billie Holiday, Nicki treated with a delightful vocal on the standard “Comes Love” while later squeezing out the notes for “Schumann’s Cello Concerto” as she became one with her instrument.
Producer/vocalist Larry Alexander, one of many musicians in attendance, joined the band for two swinging mainstream vocal stylings that displayed his wide range; “Got You Under My Skin” and “World On A String”. While both an interesting minor keyed soulful version of “Waltzing Matilda” featured some of Lisa’s best “out” playing and a quickly improvised “Theme from Skippy the Kangaroo” brought the band’s roots to the fore, their performance of the “Awabakal Suite” best highlighted “home”. The suite, a tribute to ancient and indigenous cultures everywhere, took on new meaning when played within the context of Nicki’s rap that referenced Leah Purcell, author of “Black Chicks Talking”, a book and film on successful Aboriginal Women. Parson used his mallets to build cymbal-ic tension and in the process set an ethereal mood. The primeval atmosphere of the traditional “Sawari” slowly gave way as the band delicately kissed the melody line and then reached a swinging groove until Cathy perfectly changed tempos to lead the band into an extended jam on “Bound for South Australia”. The Parrott Sisters’ fresh melodic approach combined with their varied stylistic influences, global awareness and social conscious resulted in a dazzling evening.
Visit Nicki and Lisa Parrott on the web at www.parrottmusic.com .