CD Review: DREAMS AND DAGGERS (Cécile McLorin Salvant on Mack Avenue)

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by Tony Frankel on November 15, 2017



Hooray and hallelujah! With her newest CD, a live double-album, jazz vocalist and song interpreter extraordinaire Cécile McLorin Salvant has cemented herself as this generation’s most mesmerizing, fascinating, and supreme songstress. Yes, she has that remarkably distinctive voice, but it’s supported by a personality which is an amalgam of combinations: old soul/young upstart; waggish/serious; and controlled/improvisational. With Dreams and Daggers, she will restore your faith in original singer/songwriters who value great songs and storytelling.

It’s apropos that Salvant’s follow-up to her Grammy-winning For One to Love (2015) was recorded at NYC’s Village Vanguard. Since the 1950s, the Vanguard has been one of the brightest venues for jazz, and many careers were either born or reignited there. It seems that this concert somehow did both for the French-Haitian Miami-born 28-year-old (some of the tracks were done in studio with the Catalyst Quartet at the DiMenna Center, which accounts for some sound inconsistencies).

But it’s not just a showcase for the singer—her accompanists are astoundingly inventive as well. I don’t often see arrangers listed, so let me assume her piano player Aaron Diehl is a driving creative force here. Rounding out the trio are Paul Sikivie (subtle and sexy double bass on “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was”) and drummer Lawrence Leathers (refreshingly understated and delicate instead of bombastic on, well, every track).

And can we talk about fascinating material? Her choices include a few short, sharp original pieces, but I loved the lesser-known titles by well-known composers: Who the heck covers Frank Loesser’s gorgeous, intricate “Never Will I Marry” from his 1960 flop Greenwillow (and which was originally sung by Anthony Perkins)? Showing off her sly wit, Salvant nails “If a Girl Isn’t Pretty”, a song written by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill for the gossipy neighbors in Funny Girl. Standards include “Mad about the Boy” (Noël Coward), “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” (Irving Berlin), and “You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me” (Dubin & Warren).

And then there’s the overlooked material from African-American artists that this savvy singer brings to our attention with her own idiosyncratic style: The very racy “You’ve Got to Give Me Some” by Spencer Williams, and recorded by Bessie Smith in 1929; “Tell Me What They’re Saying” by Buddy “Since I Fell for You” Rogers; and “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues” by Ida Cox, a Depression-era vaudeville and blues singer and tent show performer.

The only problematic issue has to do with engineering and Al Pryor’s producing: While I’m sure it was in service to recreating that live feel, the audience applause is jarringly inconsistent, and at times goes on and on for ridiculously long—that’s great when seeing a singer in person, not so good on a CD that bears repeated listenings.

So, phenomenal musicians, outstanding material, and flawless delivery by a unique vocal jazz artist who’s passionate and keen makes this a highly recommended choice for jazz lovers and newbies as well.

Dreams and Daggers
Cécile McLorin Salvant
Mack Avenue
released September 29, 2017
2 Discs
Part One: 11 tracks | 47:39; Part Two: 12 tracks | 64:21
also available on a Deluxe 3-LP 180 Gram Vinyl Set
order on Amazon, iTunes, and Spotify
for more info, visit Cécile McLorin Salvant

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