Cécile McLorin Salvant
Mack Avenue ***** ALBUM OF THE WEEK
Opening in a traditional fashion with Bessie Smith song ‘St Louis Gal’ Miami-born McLorin Salvant is simply accompanied by the guitar of James Chirillo. But WomanChild makes a swift gear shift soon after with the modern mainstream accompaniment of pianist Aaron Diehl, the 2010 Thelonious Monk competition-winning singer’s labelmate, on the Rodgers and Hart song ‘I Didn’t Know What Time It Was’. Diehl’s first solo opens up the shutters of the album before McLorin Salvant’s sighing return. Her tone is a thing of beauty and the delivery so very unhurried. The singer, with Haitian and French roots, spoke French as a child and even moved to France as a teenager where her jazz journey began, as Ted Gioia in the notes explains. That heritage is also developed on the album.
Womanchild is an instant classic, a real tonic, by a classic jazz singer of real quality. “She has poise, elegance, soul, humour, sensuality, power, virtuosity, range, insight, intelligence, depth and grace,” Wynton Marsalis has said and it’s easy to agree on the evidence here. It’s worth pointing out her style is very rare now especially among young singers, maybe only China Moses compares in this regard among the new generation of younger female singers however rooted in jazz they are. There’s a sense of the vaudeville era on ‘Nobody’ a real old time number with plunking bass from Rodney Whitaker and Diehl playing like a Harlem piano professor. McLorin Salvant can “talk” the song as well. Despite the worry in the lyrics McLorin Salvant “walks in stride” on her own song, the title track ‘WomanChild’; she sings in French on another of her songs ‘Le Front Caché Sur Tes Genoux’ and Diehl and the great drummer Herlin Riley make a strong rhythmic impression on Diehl’s ‘Prelude’ leading into the standard ‘Lull in My Life’, which has an elegance all of its own. Riley is brilliant at the beginning of the corny number ‘You Bring Out the Savage in Me’, and McLorin Salvant has fun with this via Betty Carter-like vocal acrobatics (also Carter-esque on ‘What A Little Moonlight Can Do’), a chance for her to experiment with daring intervals and grandstanding effects.
Other highlights include the sheer exuberance and pure vocal sound on ‘John Henry’ when the band builds up some whip-fast motion, Diehl’s prepared piano rolling back the years; and then there’s the sheer sensuality of ‘Jitterbug Waltz’. A wonderful album by a singer we’re going to be hearing a great deal more about in the years to come.
Cécile McLorin Salvant above
Photo: John Abbott