“The jazz world purrs with congenial young singers revisiting the great American songbook, but if they’ve taken a detour or two off the road from A-star student to artiste, their shows are more likely to graduate from pleasant interludes to memorable experiences.
Cecile McLorin Salvant, a vocalist with a ringing endorsement from Wynton Marsalis as a calling card, may be only 25 but sounds like an old soul. Half French and half Haitian, raised in Miami but subsequently a student of both law and baroque music in Provence, she performs in English, French and Spanish. She brings ideas from unexpected angles to the familiar art of standards-singing, and she applies a mischievous intelligence to well-worn lyrics in ways that transform them. This week, she played two sold-out nights at Ronnie Scott’s with pianist Aaron Diehl’s polished trio, and she returns to London for the EFG Jazz festival in November.
Resoundingly eloquent, whether growling the blues or barely breathing, Salvant has inbuilt swing, an actor’s stagecraft, an instrumentalist’s precision of nuance, and an appetite for dusting off rarely performed songs. On her first night at Ronnie Scott’s, she also shared a remarkable empathy with the fleet and fluent Diehl, who added lightly dancing rejoinders to her phrasing, as if he always knew exactly where she was heading. Let’s Face the Music and Dance mixed softly wailing vocal slides across the lyric and understated yodel-like sounds. Ethel Waters’ Sweet Man Blues was earthy and casually talkative; Cole Porter’s So in Love was stretched over an arresting tension between Salvant’s long-tone whispers and Diehl’s quick, percussive accompaniment. Most Gentlemen Don’t Like Love was wittily reinvented by a contemporary woman’s realism, and the Fran Landesman classic Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most veered from low-register resignation to despairingly slow-ebbing high notes.“