Cécile McLorin Salvant
Since dropping her 2013 album WomanChild Cécile McLorin Salvant has towered as the most versatile, natural and ambitious singer in 21st century jazz. The Miami native began playing piano when she was five and soon after she studied singing with an impressively broad conception and over the last decade she’s demonstrated a peerless facility and range in just about every facet of jazz vocals. While her instrument initially suggests that she’s extending the tradition of agile singers like Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington, Salvant goes much deeper. She studied jazz and baroque music at the Darius Milhaud Conservatory in France, establishing an unimpeachable conception of how music works, a training that’s allowed her to consistently enlarge her repertoire and approach.
Over the last decade she’s complemented her mastery of jazz and pop standards with a keen understanding of the blues and show tunes, while gradually revealing her strengths as a composer. She’s a natural performer with jaw-dropping pitch control, complementing the sounds she produces with a convincing theatricality that only compounds the multivalent nature of her art. Still, her astonishing 2022 album Ghost Song (Nonesuch) made clear that she’s much more than a jazz singer. The album pulls back the curtain or her unbound aesthetic, affording us the chance to absorb a fuller picture of her art. She utterly reinvents the Kate Bush classic “Wuthering Heights,” applying the sound of traditional Irish sean nós a cappella singing that injects an unexpected intimacy and drama into her interpretation.
The rest of the album moves easily between varied approaches, ricocheting between the insouciance of a piano bar sassiness on “Obligation,” the elastic samba foundation of the jaunty “Until,” the intense vocoderized drone of the fittingly robotic “I Lost My Mind,” or the fado undertones chiming beneath “Dead Poplar.” Not only does Salvant seem capable of singing anything, but she routinely makes whatever she tackles her own.