This was the second of the singer’s sold-out nights this week at the famous Soho jazz club.
Two years on from WomanChild, which was just about the best thing about 2013 in terms of jazz records, Aaron Diehl once again McLorin Salvant’s pianistic muse especially effective in an intimate duo in the first set on ‘Don’t Explain’. The singer’s skilful theatrical manner and commanding stage presence puts you at ease, her piercing look willing to communicate every word of every song: she can curl a syllable to sculpt it from serious to a smile with the greatest of subtlety that still manages to convey surprise, one of the key elements of jazz performance.
The audience began to respond to her in the first set when she sang ‘Jeepers Creepers’ and the singer showed her playfulness on a range of material that journeyed to the 1920s and forward up to the 1950s and beyond.
Miami-born, a previous winner of the prestigious Thelonious Monk prize in the States, the singer has Haitian and French roots and spoke French as a child and even moved to France as a teenager where her jazz journey began, and she sang a song in French briefly doing the evening. In her trio besides Diehl, whose feathery sometimes baroque touch and range of voicings illuminated the singer’s every move, McLorin Salvant was accompanied by the supple double bassist Paul Sikivie, excellent in duo with her on the encore ‘Lonely Town’ (‘The crowds rush by, a million faces pass before your eyes’ so atmospherically delivered), and drummer Lawrence Leathers whose style reminded me of Clarence Penn’s, his rhythmic impetus always on the verge of some molten build into exuberant swing.
The vocal acrobatics, Betty Carter-like sometimes, were kept under wraps to a certain extent as the singer seemed more interested in teasing out every nuance from the lyric, sometimes bawdy and sensuously playful for instance on the Ethel Waters and Bessie Smith songs, going in and out of the note as she explored the size and space and tonal complexity and meaning that she needed: her daring improvisational sense is also very pronounced.
McLorin Salvant also had news for the band: letting them know ever so gently that the new album will now be released in September as she’d just heard that it had been pushed back from August. It’s called For One to Love her label announced yesterday and some of the songs that will be on it McLorin Salvant sang on this occasion: a winningly mischievous take on ‘Stepsisters Lament’ from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella; Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s ‘Wives And Lovers’, a song the singer told us she found ‘funny’ when she heard it first (the song’s lyrics remaining quite controversial); ‘The Trolley Song’ where Leathers came into his own with his ding-ding-dings and multiple percussive effects; and ‘Something’s Coming’ from Westside Story an interpretation that had a number of tempo changes and became a huge vehicle for improvisation near the end. A superb show: superlatives are somehow inadequate.
Cécile McLorin Salvant, above, at Ronnie Scott’s.
Photo: Benjamin Amure