After winning three Grammys, it’s clear Cécile McLorin Salvant has been faced with artistic compromise. I felt she had sadly succumbed to sticking with her status quo. The performance felt bedded in her safe place. However she is a real master of reinventing songs and it’s her embodiment of every song that makes her dazzle.
On 16th November, McLorin Salvant played to a sold out show at Cadogan Hall for the EFG London Jazz Festival organised by Serious Music. Performing a stunning vocal interpretation of both original, operatic, theatrical and pop numbers, she truly lived every lyric. Each tune had a story and she is a queen of narrative. But as a complete set it felt disjointed and lacking in a cohesive message.
She opened the show with an original called ‘Fog’, which she joked was inspired by two bassists she knows. It was a textural piece executed with finesse. The band held a subtle, orchestral foundation for her to launch her lofty vocals.
She then moved onto another original number inspired by a close friend’s quip that had stayed with her, ‘expectation is premeditated resentment’. She massaged the audience with covers of Sting and Kate Bush. These softer jazz-influenced reinterpretations were impressively fuelled by emphatic fast-paced piano solos and a haunting vocal duet between herself and flautist Alexa Tarintino.
The most memorable piece was McLorin Salvant’s rendition of ‘Pirate Jenny’ from the Threepenny Opera. Raging with comeuppance, she had you backing the dirty revenge tactics of the humiliated hotel cleaner. She took you on a journey of injustice, shame and finally the satisfying resolution of death.
The supporting act was equally impressive. Bassist Joe Downard, tenor saxophonist, with composer Xhosa Cole, wowed the audience. Cole left me wanting more. He peaked with his cover of Thelonius Monk, as his fingers fluttered like butterfly wings and he painted complex vistas in our minds. It’s not a surprise he won the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year in 2018, and Breakthrough Act of the Year at the 2020 Jazz FM Awards. He is both virtuosic and heartfelt.
Overall it was an outstanding gig, and a collage of beautiful performances. I just personally hope McLorin Salvant takes more risks in the future.
Photos ©: Paul Wood