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Cecile McLorin Salvant: WomanChild

Mark F. Turner By

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"You sound and act as if you've been here before," an elder might say to some precocious youngster who exhibited the traits of a much older person. That's a sentiment that could also be applied to the remarkable 24 year-old jazz singer Cecile McLorin Salvant, who sounds as if she was reincarnated from a different era. With a unique background, the winner of 2010's Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition is a Miami native of Haitian and Guadeloupian descent who grew up in Aix-en-Provence, France. Her captivating singing has received critical praise from the likes of trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and the proof becomes apparent when listening to her Mack Avenue debut, WomanChild—heard in her perfect pitch, emotive vocal nuances and poise that seems well beyond her years.

While McLorin Salvant's rigorous studies in classical, baroque, and jazz music are clear factors, it's the way she personalizes mood and style in her singing that authenticates her craft. There are hints of Billie Holiday's melancholic phrasing and Abbey Lincoln's storytelling, as well as comedic phrasing imparted in the humorous self-centered themed "Nobody" popularized by Vaudeville comedian Burt Williams.

Several lesser known gems are carefully interpreted and given new life, such as the bluesy "St. Louis Gal" (originally recorded by 1920's singer Bessie Smith) or the brilliant re-imagining of "You Bring Out The Savage In Me" (a popular 1930s show tune performed by the pioneering female multi-instrumentalist, singer, and bandleader Valaida Snow). Each selection tells a unique story of the past that's revitalized by McLorin Salvant's honey-toned lyricism, as in Rodgers and Hart's "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" or the bluesy, funky rendition of the 19th Century folk hero ballad, "John Henry."

The program is fleshed out by a top notch band featuring master drummer Herlin Riley, the always solid Rodney Whitaker on bass and rising pianist Aaron Diehl, who released another excellent Mack Avenue debut, The Bespoke Man's Narrative, earlier this year. The band sparkles on the title track, written by the singer, and the classic "There's a Lull in My Life," with its unique changes, before McLorin Salvant's magic conjures up memories of the great Ella Fitzgerald. A touch of nostalgia yet totally fresh, this is an excellent release from a unique and impressive new voice.

Track Listing: St. Louis Gal; I Didn't Know What Time It Was; Nobody; WomanChild; Le Front Cache Sur Tes Genoux; Prelude - There's A Lull In My Life; You Bring Out The Savage In Me; Baby Have Pity On Me; John Henry; Jitterbug Waltz; What A Little Moonlight Can Do; Deep Dark Blue.

Personnel: Cécile McLorin Salvant: vocals, piano (10); Aaron Diehl: piano; Rodney Whitaker: double bass; Herlin Riley: drums; James Chirillo: guitar, banjo (1, 8).

Title: WomanChild | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Mack Avenue Records

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