Cécile McLorin Salvant – For One to Love
(Mack Avenue MAC 1095 (CD) and MAC 1095LP (double vinyl). CD and LP review by Andrew Cartmel)
This is the third album by singer Cécile McLorin Salvant who was born in Florida, of Haitian, French and Guadeloupean descent. She’s a Grammy nominee, has won Downbeat polls and taken first prize in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. For One to Love is an impressive example of jazz vocals. Its richness and complexity is such that the casual listener is startled to discover that it’s not the work of Salvant supported by a large unit, but rather a crack trio consisting of Aaron Diehl piano, Paul Sikivie double bass and Lawrence Leathers on drums. The apparent size and diversity of the sound here is due in no small part to the variety and range of Salvant’s singing and Aaron Diehl’s notable ability to encompass shifts in colour and tempo.
The album is a canny mix of unusual and carefully chosen standards alternating with nimble originals penned by Salvant. Fog is one of the latter and the singer immediately begins to stake out her territory and show what she can do. Called to mind are Nina Simone and, above all, Betty Carter (whom some would consider the greatest jazz ginger of them all). For those with other musical reference points, there’s even a hint of Bjork.
Growlin’ Dan is a great example of the imaginative standards on offer. It’s a composition by Blanche Calloway, Cab’s older sister, and it charts the further adventures of Cab Calloway’s Minnie the Moocher. With a stomping, funky beat from Paul Sikivie and Lawrence Leathers, and restrained piano from Diehl it’s a story-telling song carried by the power of the singer, reminiscent of Peggy Lee’s I’m a Woman.
Burt Bacharach’s Wives and Lovers is presented in a meditative and moody version, with Salvant wringing out every syllable of Hal David’s lyric and Diehl playing insistent, minatory piano like a warning bulletin coming in. Salvant’s voice soars above the piano, a bird over jagged rocks. Lawrence Leathers plays beautifully judged drums which are so spare they’re hardly there, and the whole group wraps things up in an amazingly concise conclusion.
The Trolley Song is introduced with uneasy, time-shifting drums and piano, racing like a fevered pulse, and the tempo changes are a feature of the song throughout — speeding up and slowing to a stop while Salvant’s singing ties it all together, through transformations that include a brief Latin excursion. What’s the Matter Now? is a gorgeously involving, bluesy workout, which gets the head nodding and toes tapping. Paul Sikivie’s skill is particularly on show here with his immaculate plucked bass. Its sweetly funky down-home nature is balanced by some very sophisticated tempo shifts and sudden, immaculate pauses — at several points the song just seems to stop dead, and these short, sweet silences are breathtaking. Diehl has a gleaming, carefully crafted solo which develops interesting angular forms from this simple composition.
An eerie modernist introduction with some splendid, judicious piano from Diehl opens up into Sondheim’s Something’s Coming — a spine tingling highlight in an outstandingly diverse collection of songs. Diehl’s playing moves from the spooky to the elegantly offhand and Salvant manages to project warmth while sounding avant garde. On top of all that, she does a convincing and sonorous job of singing Le Mal de Vivre in French. (Not so surprising when one considers that Salvant studied classical and baroque singing with the Darius Milhaud Conservatory in Aix-en-Provence. It was in France that she began performing.) At this point it’s tempting to say, “Enough — we’re impressed already.”
And we are. Very impressed. A standout jazz vocal album which features both impressive originals and eclectic standards, all delivered by a singer of real stature with a first rate rhythm section. This notable CD is also available on deluxe double vinyl, with three extra songs (So In Love, You’re Getting To Be a Habit With Me and Personne). In either format it’s one of the vocal releases of the year and deserves attention.