Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Cécile McLorin Salvant Brings Phantasmagoria and Depth to the Blue Note on the 20th

Cécile McLorin Salvant is the most original and unpredictably entertaining jazz vocalist in the world right now. Much as watching a webcast is no substitute for being there, her livestream from the Detroit Jazz Festival about a week ago was off the hook. She’s bringing her richly conceptual, shapeshifting show to a week at the Blue Note starting on Sept 20 and continuing through 25th, with sets at 8 and 10:30 PM. You can get in for $30.

Her latest album Ghost Song – streaming at Bandcamp – reflects her vast, panoramic, insatiably eclectic view of what she can transform into jazz, as well as the unselfconscious depth, existential poignancy but also the phantasmagorical thrills she brings to her music.

She opens the record with a reverb-washed duo take of Kate Bush’s teenage art-rock anthem Wuthering Heights with bassist Paul Sikivie, one part Scottish folk, one part Hildegard von Bingen.

The music gets pretty wild as the band come in with Salvant’s medley of a surreal, shapeshifting, banjo-fueled take of the Harold Arlen swing tune Optimistic Voices juxtaposed with a slow, balmy soul version of Gregory Porter’s No Love Dying. Alexa Tarantino’s wafting flute recedes for Sullivan Fortner’s hovering, distantly gospel-tinged piano over Keita Ogawa’s percussion

Salvant reaches for the rafters with a shivery, rustic blues intensity to kick off her title track, rising from shivery Marvin Sewell blues guitar to creepily cheery Lynchian 50s pop: imagine Carol Lipnik singing something from the Hairspray soundtrack. The girls of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus take over with an aptly otherworldly pavane on the way out.

Another Salvant original, Obligation, begins with a sarcastic, lickety-split Broadway-esque scamper and quickly becomes an understatedly harrowing portrait of what amounts to rape. Fortner gives it an aptly sinister outro. Gordon Sumner’s Until makes a good segue, Tarantino’s flute rising with an eerie tropicality over Fortner’s stabbing syncopation and Ogawa’s elegantly brushy rhythm.

Salvant plays piano, joined by Aaron Diehl on distantly whirling pipe organ in I Lost My Mind, a tersely carnivalesque, loopy mid 70s Peter Gabriel-style art-rock tableau. Diehl switches to his usual piano on Moon Song, a slowly unwinding Salvant ballad spiced with biting Satie-esque chromatics over drummer Kyle Poole’s whispery brushes.

Back at the piano, Salvant follows an increasingly sinister, ragtime-inflected, loopy stroll in the instrumental Trail Mix. The band return for a suspenseful, cynically protean romp through the Brecht/Weill cabaret tune The World Is Mean: what a theme for post-March 2020 hell!

Daniel Swenberg adds lute and theorbo to Dead Poplar, Salvant’s pastoral setting of the text of a metaphorically loaded, embittered letter from Alfred Stieglitz to Georgia O’Keefe. Salvant goes back to wise, knowing, summery 70s soul in Thunderclouds and closes the record with a soaring a-cappella version of the folk song Unquiet Grave, letting the grisly lyrics speak for themselves. It would be an understatement to count this as one of the dozen or so best jazz albums of the past twelve months.

September 15, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cécile McLorin Salvant Premieres Her Macabre, Majestically Relevant New Suite at the Met

“The man is lying!”

Cécile McLorin Salvant’s voice rose with an ineluctable, fearsome wail through that accusatory phrase as the orchestra behind her reached hurricane force. In the year of Metoo, fake news emanating daily via Twitter from the nation’s highest office, and Brett Kavanaugh’s accusers risking their lives to deny rape culture a seat on the nation’s highest court, Salvant could not have picked a more appropriate time to sing that.

The character she was voicing in that moment, the most fervent in a night full of metaphorically-charged, magic realist narrative, was a robin. It was warning the protagonist in Salvant’s new suite, Ogresse, to beware of a would-be suitor’s ulterior motives. It was possibly the highest peak that Salvant and the band reached in almost two hours of lush, sweeping big band jazz drawing on a hundred years’ worth of influences.

Yet the world premiere of the work, performed to a sold-out crowd last night at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, turned out to be juat as firmly rooted in the here and now. Many of the suite’s themes mirrored Rachelle Garniez’s fabulist reinventions and Rose Thomas Bannister’s great plans gothic as much as they did Billy Strayhorn, or Cole Porter, or Ellington.

The book on Salvant is that she can personify just about any singer from jazz’s golden age. That may be true, but as much as the night’s more coy moments brought to mind Dinah Washington, along with Sarah Vaughan in the more somber ones and Ella Fitzgerald when the music swung hardest, Salvant was most shattering when she sang without the slightest adornment. Knowingly, she went to that calm purity at the night’s most telling junctures.

The suite began with a hypnotically atmospheric, practically Indian lustre and ended with a bittersweetly low-key glimmer. In between, In between, Salvant bolstered her chameleonic reputation with expertly nuanced, torchy ballads, stark delta blues, epic swing anthems and a couple of detours into French chanson and all sorts of blue-neon Lynchian luridness. Late in the score, the band finally alluded to the Twin Peaks theme for a couple of bars.

Darcy James Argue conducted and also arranged the suite. Having seen him many times in the former role over the last few years, he seemed to be having more fun than ever before – then again, he plays his cards close to the vest onstage. Whatever the case, Salvant’s songs have given him fertile territory for his signature, epic sweep and counterintuitive pairings between individual voices in the ensemble.

Helen Sung’s poignant, lyrical piano traded off with David Wong’s similarly inflected bass during a graveyard waltz. Tenor saxophonist Tom Christensen’s plaintive oboe, vibraphonist Warren Wolf’s sepulchrally sprinting marimba, and trombonist Josh Roseman’s surprisingly lilting tuba all rose to the surreal command demanded by Argue’s wicked chart. The solo that drew the most awestruck applause was from Alexa Tarantino’s soprano sax, a particularly poignant, emotionally raw salvo.

Brandon Seabrook began the show on Strat but quickly switched to banjo, which anchored the 19th century blues-inflected interludes. Yet he never picked with traditional three-finger technique, hammering on enigmatic open chords or aggressively tremolo-picking his phrases. Maybe that was Argue’s decision not to dive deep into the delta swamp.

Salvant’s lyricism is as deep and vast as her music. The suite’s plotline involves a rugged individualist who has her own grisly way of dealing with the menace of the townspeople outside – we learn toward the end that she’s no angel herself, either.

Father had flown away sometime ago
My face was all he left behind
But soon he left my mother’s mind
She remarried a shadow

That set the stage for the grim ramifications of that particular circumstance, which Salvant and the group slowly unveiled, up to a literal forest fire of a coda. The conclusion, which Salvant had been foreshadowing all along, drew a fervent “Yessssss!” from an alluring, petite brunette in glasses and a smart sweater seated to the author’s immediate right. The audience echoed sentiment that via three standing ovations, a triumph for a group that also included purposeful trumpeter Kirk Knuffke, percussionist Samuel Torres and the sweeping strings of the Mivos Quartet.

This could have been the best concert of the year – and the Metropolitan Museum of Art has many more. Some of them are free with museum admission: you could see plaintive Armenian duduk music played by the duo of Gevorg Dabaghyan and Vache Sharafyan in Gallery 199 at 5:30 PM on Oct 26.

September 29, 2018 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment