Every now and then, a female jazz vocalist will come onto the scene and just blow everyone away.
It remains a mystery why their voice bears striking resemblances to jazz legends such as Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald. Yet, they have their own style. Well, meet Cècile McLorin Salvant, a star vocalist who fits this description to a T.
As the latest sensation in the jazz world, Salvant is making everyone take notice of her; including jazz giant Wynton Marsalis who remarked, “She has poise, elegance, soul, humor, sensuality, power, virtuosity, range, insight, intelligence, depth and grace.”
At only 23, Salvant has the flair and range of vocalists twice her age and her distinctive, yet classic vocal maturity is a sound to behold. A native of Miami, she grew up on classical music, honing her skills on the piano and performing with the Miami Choral Society at the tender age of eight. She continued her musical studies at the Darius Milhaud Conservatory in France and developed quite a following as a performer with French reed musician Jean-Francois Bonnel.
Her big break in America came when she won first place in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition in 2010.
Yet, her musical education extends beyond the stage as she is well versed in jazz and blues music history, which is evident on her debut album, WomanChild.
To call WomanChild a straight jazz album would be an understatement. Salvant tackles a number of genres in addition to jazz such as blues, folk, vaudeville, and classical music. She is joined on record by bassist Rodney Whitaker, pianist Aaron Diehl, drummer Herlin Riley, and guitarist James Chirillo.
The album opens with the sassy blues number “St. Louis Gal.” Blues empress Bessie Smith would have been proud of this version as Salvant effortlessly glides through the tune and is accompanied solely by guitar.
Salvant’s goal of the album was to piece together farely unknown cover tunes to emphasize their “beautifully crafted” nature and “standard” quality.
No time period was too archaic for Salvant as she even delved into Vaudeville on the Bert Williams classic “Nobody.” Her comedic phrasing and contralto vocals are playfully matched by Diehl’s ragtime-esque tone on the piano.
Both her and Diehl, who is Salvant’s labelmate on Mack Avenue Records, have great chemistry together and he naturally adapts to every tune regardless of genre, delivering an impressive solo on the mysterious number “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was.”
Her French roots are also captured on “Le Front Cache Sur Tes Genoux,” an upbeat waltz written by Salvant.
The one track that is considered a standard on the album is the swing record “What A Little Moonlight Can Do.” But, after Salvant gets done with it, you will swear it was a new song. Half of the song consists of Salvant stretching her vocal register via moans and chants while the lyrics rapidly roll off her tongue in a bebopish manner. Seeing her perform this song live will be quite an experience and something of legend.
It can be difficult to nail an entire album of cover tunes, but Salvant does it with ease and grace.
WomanChild is a stellar debut, and truly captures the essence of Salvant; a young woman with a old soul.
Key Personnel: Cécile McLorin Salvant (Vocals), Aaron Diehl (Piano), Rodney Whitaker (Bass), Herlin Riley (Drums), James Chirillo (Guitar).