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.