Cécile McLorin Salvant returns to Dakota Jazz Club

JamesOnJazzsquareNext Tuesday and Wednesday June 23-24 vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant returns to the Dakota Jazz Club for a two-night stint. I don’t know what she sounds like live with her own band, but I’m ready to take a leap and find out.

Prior to her first appearance at the jazz club, Salvant was fairly new on the jazz scene and was receiving a lot of love from critics and fans. Neither have lost that loving feeling. The first time I witnessed her live was last December at Orchestra Hall, when she was a special guest with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.

Cécile McLorin Salvant
Cécile McLorin Salvant

Salvant has been described as the “real deal” by people who know the real deal when they see it. Appearing on the cover of DownBeat? Check. Winner of the Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition? Check.

My initial response to her recorded music was that it was courageous, and her voice recalled Sarah Vaughan. Now, I’m hearing something different. To be sure, Salvant’s sound is confident and reveals honest-to-goodness originality.

Recently, I was thrilled to run across a used copy of the Verve CD, The Ultimate Ella Fitzgerald (Selected by Joe Williams). Fitzgerald is accompanied by the Frank DeVol’s Orchestra featuring Stan Getz on tenor saxophone. The October 1957 recording takes place in Los Angeles.

I played track 13 entitled “There’s a Lull in My Life” (Harry Revel-Mack Gordon), and suddenly it hit me. I thought, Salvant covers this tune, too. So, I listened to both versions more closely, and I was struck by how poised and graceful both Fitzgerald and Salvant sound on the song.

Cécile McLorin Salvant
Cécile McLorin Salvant

Both the Fitzgerald and Salvant renditions of “There’s a Lull in My Life” are sung with a true sense of presentness. No restraint, and so much care is given to their approach to phrasing and tone. Salvant isn’t even thirty-years-old yet, but I believe that she’s lived long enough to sing those lyrics “there’s a lull in my life” in a believable way, and with plenty of feeling. That’s a challenge for young singers, even for some who are more mature and experienced.

On September 4, Salvant’s second album entitled For One to Love from Mack Avenue will be released. Out of the 12 tracks, five are originals. Other songs include “Growlin’ Dan” by Blanche Calloway, who was the first woman to lead an all-male orchestra. She also sings in French, covering “Le Mal De Vivre,” written by French vocalist Barbara.

Salvant, who was born and raised in Miami, grew up speaking French at home. She is the daughter of a Haitian father and French mother. At the age of 18, Salvant moved to France where she studied both music and law.

Although it’s been two years since Salvant’s sGrammy-nominated first album WomanChild (released May 2013), I’m still not finished listening to it, as it has grown on me.

For Salvant’s first recording, she couldn’t have asked for stronger support from a mix of A-list bandmates that join her, and her working band is pretty memorable, too.

Talent like pianist Aaron Diehl, who like Salvant is a rising star that stands out. If you listen to the recorded version of “Prelude/There’s a Lull in My Life,” you’ll know why. He wrote the prelude. And the more I play it, the more stunned I am by its musical complexity and simple beauty. I’m looking forward to witnessing Diehl perform live, as well as checking out his latest Mack Avenue release, Space Time Continuum.

Given my new found understanding and appreciation for Salvant and her music, I now have a proper degree of intimacy with her sound and music. Salvant’s pure artistry has earned my sustained interest.

For a taste of Salvant and her band in action, watch the clip below of “There’s a Lull in My Life” at the 2012 Detroit Jazz Festival.

Robin James welcomes reader responses to jamesonjazz@spokesman-recorder.com. You can also find James on Twitter at @Robin_James1.