I first came across Cecile McLorin Salvant a couple of months ago when I heard a track from her new album, For One To Love, being played on Jazzfm. Soon afterwards I purchased that album, her third, and the the previous one, Woman Child. Both recordings are excellent, showcasing her vocal range, versatility across a range of styles and respect for jazz history. Delighted to discover that she was to perform at this month's London Jazz Festival, I went to her concert at the Cadogan Hall last night and came away completely hooked.
Supremely confident at just 26 years, she led a sell out audience through gems from the great American song book, compositions of her own and re-imaginations of some of the all time classics of vocal jazz. Throughout she demonstrated her creativity and improvisational skills which also stretch to song writing and producing the artwork for her new album. Tres elegant in silver shoes and silk, she sang in French as well as English partly in acknowledgement of Friday night's terror attacks in Paris and partly because she is as comfortable in both languages. Her parents are both French speakers from Guadeloupe and Haiti and Cecile studied both law and music in France. Opening with a French song from the 1930's she also included the Monique Andree Serf song La Mal de Vivre in her programme, describing it as a song about the blues and adversity but which ends in optimism.
Cecile has been compared to some of the all time greats and her reading of Gershwin's Let's Face the Music and Dance and It Ain't Necessarily So as well as the three Cole Porter songs she gave us demonstrate why. Great phrasing by the way on It Ain't Necessarily So - "Fo' he made his home in that fishe's ab-do-men". Oh yes. She sang with the clarity and inventiveness of Ella - every word being audible and whilst closing my eyes during Porter's So In Love I found myself in 1950's Carnegie Hall listening to Sarah Vaughan's rich tones. These are some of the best songs ever written but they require sensitive handling and respect. She gave them both - demonstrated superbly on Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh's When In Rome - the ultimate in sophistication and understatement giving it a straight reading.
Serious stuff but Cecile McLorin Salvant also understands humour. There was off mic banter with pianist Aaron Diehl throughout the performance and she teased the audience mercilessly throughout the double entendre filled Bessie Smith number You've Got To Give Me Some - accompanied solely by piano. Cole Porter's less well known Gentlemen Don't Like Love raised a few laughs too. Not to mention that thing she does with the voice "falling" at the end of some lines.
Throughout the concert, our heroine was supported by a world class trio led by Diehl and accompanied by bassist Paul Sikivie and drummer Lawrence Leathers. Diehl also arranged several of the songs. And his arrangements were something else too. I loved the live recreation of the Bacharach and David song Wives and Lovers featured on the new album with its urgent opening and piano punctuation adding impact to the "warning" of the lyrics. Also outstanding was Diehl's arrangement of the Judy Garland classic The Trolley Song - so strong that you really can feel the trolley clanging, bell dinging, motor chugging, buzzer buzzing and all the rest of it. It was her recording of this song that made me realise that Garland is another of her vocal influences, especially in the last line ".…and it was grand just to stand with his hand holding mine, to the end of the line…" where I am sure that she purposely pays tribute to dear Judy. Listen to it here to see if you agree.
Other treats included Somehow I Never Could Believe, the aria from the Kurt Weill/ Langston Hughes opera Street Scene, written in 1946 but rarely performed, her own composition Monday and another excellently re-arranged classic, Something's Coming from West Side Story. She received a standing ovation and wasn't going to get away without coming back at least once. She stunned the audience by singing another blues number unaccompanied and without mic and then left with a bow and a backwards wave
Already the winner of a sack full of awards, Cecile McLorin Salvant is surely a megastar in the making - watch out Dianne and Dee Dee! The concert of the year for me, and I've been to some big ones. More please.