Yes, Cecile McLorin Salvant could well be the leading Jazz singer of the 21st century: A Review of Dreams and Daggers

Cecile McLorin Salvant

I’ve written several times about Cecile McLorin Salvant already, about her amazing album For The One To Love, which also featured in my Top 5 Vocal Jazz albums for 2015. I also already had the pleasure of hearing her live, an outstanding experience.

This young singer has already received so much praise, including a Grammy and a DownBeats critics poll, that I’m hardly presenting you a scoop here, but a new album by such a great artist really needs a blog post!

Dreams and Daggers (MackAvenue 2017)

Cecile McLorin Salvant Dreams and Daggers 24 96 MackAvenue 2017

A couple of initial comments: this is a live album, recorded in 2016 at the legendary Village Vanguard in New York that has given us outstanding live albums already back in the days of Bill Evans. And the recording quality is excellent, you really only notice the live character of this album from the audience´s enthusiastic clapping and her occasional comments to the public.

Second comment: you get a double album here. Some could argue, is this a bit long? Actually not at all, you actually really don’t want this album to end.

Third comment: this album is formally slightly less innovative than the first two ones, you get more Irving and Gershwin standards, and the playing by Aaron Diehl and his great musicians is relatively mainstream. Some of you will take that as a criticism. Actually, not at all!

Because McLorin Salvant manages to put her very personal spin on even old try familiar standards like Devil May Care or You’re My Thrill.

My favorite track is Somehow I never could believe, which starts out as a sensitive ballad where Aaron Diehl already gets to shine in the long intro, but the real hero is Paul Sikivie on bass. And then you get Cecile´s voice, which on this track sometimes is even close to whispering. Amazingly intense.

A note on the title: You have Dreams, representing pretty much what you’d think it means. But what about the Daggers? Well, according to McLorin Salvant, this is about the songs about more complex topics, like feminism, racial identity, self-doubt, that really force you to listen to the lyrics.

This album is a must have for any jazz lover. The year is not yet over, but I´d be surprised if this album doesn’t end up in my personal top Jazz albums for 2017.

In my very first post about her I asked the question in the title Will Cécile McLorin Salvant Become The Most Important Jazz Singer of Our Century?.

Well we obviously still have 83 years to go in this decade, but she’s clearly up to a very good start here.

My rating: 5 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz) and here (Prostudiomasters)

My Top 5 Vocal Jazz Albums of 2015

Following my recent post on my top Classical albums of 2015, let me now follow up with my top 5 Vocal Jazz albums for this year.

Note there are a couple of “only” four star albums here, which means I don’t consider them absolutely essential. That said, I very much like all of the below and would recommend them without hesitation.

 

Cecile McLorin Salvant: For One To Love (Mack Avenue 2015)

Cecile McLorin Salvant For One To Love MackAvenue 2015

My Jazz album of the year by an outstanding young talent (review here). I’ve seen her live and this was probably one of my best concerts of the year .

 

Sarah McKenzie: We Could Be Lovers (Impulse 2015)

Sarah McKenzie We Could Be Lovers Impulse 2015

Sarah McKenzie is my other discovery of this year (reviewed here). Less innovative than Cecile McLorin Salvant, she does just old fashioned 1960-style vocal jazz. The thing is, she does it with so much charm and also includes her own originals, I’m convinced we’ll continue hearing from this young artist.

If you can catch her live as I did (see here), go for it, she’s even better live than on this album.

 

Cassandra Wilson: Coming Forth By Day (Legacy Records 2015)

Cassandra Wilson Coming Forth By Day 2015

I’ve said it before, I have a love-hate relationship with Cassandra Wilson. Quite often, she just gets too close to a style that I just don’t like. On this Billie Holiday album, all is well from my perspective (see my review here).

 

Melody Gardot: Currency of Man (Universal 2015)

Melody Gardot - Currency of Man

 

To be fair, this is more Soul than Jazz, but in any case, I really like this album. See my review here.

 

Autour de Nina (Verve 2015)

Autour de Nina Verve Compilation Sophie Hunger Melody Gardot

A beautiful Nina Simone Tribute album from a variety of artists. One of my favorite vocal jazz albums of the year, reviewed here.

Will Cécile McLorin Salvant Become The Most Important Jazz Singer of Our Century? – A Review of For One To Love

As you can see from my posting history, I really like young contemporary artists. Too many lovers of Jazz and Classical music live in the past (“Ah, the times of Toscanini…” “Nobody plays like Bird anymore…” etc.).

Contemporary Artists

I disagree. We have so many fantastic artists around us right now, there is no need to live only in the past. That is not to say we should forget the past (case in point, my previous review was about a 1959 album from Oscar Peterson with music mainly from the 1930s), but the much more exciting treasure hunt is to find the contemporary gems, that don’t yet are household name.

Some examples I’ve already written about include Shai Maestro, Benjamin Grosvenor and Igor Levit, or Vilde Frang. Another one is Aaron Diehl, He by the way also plays on the album below.

Cécile McLorin Salvant

Well, to be fair, you really don’t have to be a musical truffle pig to know about the 26 year old Cécile McLorin Salvant. She’s been praised all over the place after she won the Thelonious Monk competition, so if you read any Jazz reviews at all, you should have heard about her great debut, WomanChild.

As you’ve seen from my post on my 25 Essential Jazz albums, I’m not such a big fan of vocal jazz overall. There are many singers out there with great voices, but the musical result is often a bit nondescript.

Not so here. You’ll recognize her voice immediately, she’s already developed a great style, and having the brilliant Aaron Diehl at her side is a great asset, in a way this could become a similar winning combination to Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson.

For One To Love

Cecile McLorin Salvant For One To Love MackAvenue 2015

I already liked WomanChild, but this album gets even better. There are intimate piano only ballads like Left Over, songs that could come straight out of a Jacques Brel album (Le Mal de Vivre), and the outstanding 10:33 Something’s Coming (I think I mentioned already that I have a thing for long jazz tracks, this one is no exception). There is no weak track on this album, and unlike many other vocal jazz albums, you really never get bored.

My rating: 5 stars

So to come back to the title of this post, my bold prediction is that in 30 years from now we will list Cécile in the Great Hall of Jazz along with Ella, Sarah, and Billie.

I trusted her enough that I had this album in pre-paid pre-order without even listening to it once, and will certainly do the same for her future releases!

You can get it here (Qobuz) and here (HDtracks)

UPDATE: Review  of her concert in Basel in 2015 here.