Rising Jazz Singer Reaches All The Right Notes
Every artist has his or her limitations. With Cécile McLorin Salvant, it’s hard to know what those are.
The Miami-born singer combines a powerful vocal instrument and sure technique with interpretive smarts. If she has any weaknesses, she didn’t reveal them at the Regattabar in the first of two shows last Friday night.
Now 24, McLorin Salvant came to the fore as the winner of the 2010 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocal Competition, but this has been her breakout year, with the release of her Mack Avenue Records debut, “WomanChild” (her second CD overall). On that album she matched her chops and wit with unusual repertoire.
At the Regattabar, there were standards like Cole Porter’s “I Get a Kick Out of You” and “So in Love” as well as a 1905 song by vaudevillian Bert Williams, “Nobody,” and the folk tune “John Henry.”
Working with a superb trio that included the pianist from “WomanChild,” Aaron Diehl, as well as bassist Paul Sikivie and drummer Peter Van Nostrand, she moved through her set with smooth efficiency, introducing each song with no more than a sentence. “You’ve Got to Give Me Some,” she said, was “a very dirty blues that Bessie Smith used to sing.” It was.
Afterward she said, “I hope there are no children here.”
Her singing did not disappoint. As on record, she showed an ability to give a different color to each word, singing high-lying lines in a long breath and then diving deep down into her glorious lower register. She played with rhythm like taffy, rushing ahead of the beat, falling back, never losing a sense of swing.
When she got to the Billie Holiday hit “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” she riffed on the opening syllables — “oo-oo” — extending them into an improvised melody. Each song was a minidrama, with comedy, enhanced by her simple hand gestures and facial expressions. I would have liked to have heard “You Bring Out the Savage in Me,” one of the more daring pieces from “WomanChild.” But its omission was hardly a fault.