Cécile McLorin Salvant is definitely a character to remember. Coming on stage with a red hair-piece resembling a coral and her signature white-glasses, her quirkiness quickly captured the packed out Jazz Standard audience’s attention, opening the set with a crowd favorite, “Let’s Face The Music And Dance.”
Salvant & the Aaron Diehl Trio are celebrating the release of their new album, For One To Love. Flitting between album and non-album tracks, Salvant sings as if she is a fusion of singers: she employs very different vocal techniques with each phrase: belting, whispering, driving powerfully or yearning longingly. When she began, Ella Fitzgerald was immediately conjured to mind: the low “ho, ho, ho” resonant alto tones, the grandeur of her mid-tones and the playfulness of her high notes, she performed a young Fitzgerald. Salvant is unafraid to experiment with her voice.
Most impressively and becoming her characteristic style, Salvant masterfully belts out unapologetically piercing, sharp high notes and then thins it out into a breathless fog, spinning her delicate high notes just between her head voice and falsetto – repeatedly done with different songs, and every time in pitch perfect. Her long sustained notes are hauntingly perfect. Displayed in her album track “Fog” and Nancy Wilson’s “Guess Who I Saw Today,” her vocal theatrics slowly won the audience over to her vibrant persona.
The more theatrical songs, Porter’s “Most Gentlemen Don’t Like Love” and Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Wives and Lovers,” were very well received, with her quirky and cheeky performance delighting the audience. These standards, however, did contrast with her album, which provided a smoother and darker sound, singing songs such as “So In Love” and “Fog.”
The best performance of the evening was of Aaron Diehl’s jazz rendition of the opera aria, “Somehow I Never Could Believe” from Street Scene. With much deliberation before they started, amongst a shuffle of uncertainty from the players, they decided to try out the new unmastered arrangement, which turned out to make the entire night. Salvant’s vocals fit on top perfectly with sentimental heartache, finally crying out, “I always believe that there will be a brighter day.”
The night was very much about Salvant with very little solo opportunities for the band, but this what the audience wanted, judging by their warm reactions to her quirkiness. She is definitely convinced of her persona and act, and so sings as if she’s contemplating out loud – a personal monologue of sorts – and we do feel like outsiders, but outsiders who are intrigued to hear her thoughts. Although soft-spoken between songs, her performances are dramatic and confident, forming a very unique and entertaining persona which people grew to love and will continue to grow to love.