Concert Review: CÉCILE McLORIN SALVANT (Sanders Theater in Cambridge, MA)

Post image for Concert Review: CÉCILE McLORIN SALVANT (Sanders Theater in Cambridge, MA)

by Lynne Weiss on February 3, 2024

in Concerts / Events,Theater-Boston,Tours


Acclaimed vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant brought nothing but pleasure to Sanders Theater in Cambridge last night, courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston. From the moment she stepped onto the darkened stage in her bright tangerine dress and what appeared to be platform Doc Martens and electric blue socks, she captivated the audience with a voice that was at times as dark and velvety as the deep purple backdrop on the stage and, at others, as strong and bright as her orange dress. Her delivery ranged from almost conversational to soaringly melodic; her vocals so clearly articulated that nearly every lyric was fully comprehensible.

Haven’t heard of her? Salvant has won three consecutive Grammy Awards for Best Jazz Vocal Album after being nominated in 2014 for her WomanChild. Tomorrow at the 2024 Grammys we will find out if her latest project, Mélusine, wins for Best Vocal Album. She opened with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s comical “Stepsisters’ Lament” from Cinderella. Her shrewd sense of humor was evident in her interpretation of three Burt Bacharach numbers that followed: the upbeat “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me”; poignant “Alfie”; and “Wives and Lovers,” delivered with what I interpreted as playful irony. Throughout, her distinctive phrasing made these songs fresh without distracting from the pleasures of their familiarity.

These very accessible numbers were followed by a more challenging and darker performance: “Barbara’s Song,” from Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, which portrays the mysteries of self-destructive sexual attraction.

Salvant didn’t offer a lot in the way of between-numbers banter. She didn’t need to. One felt she was aware of the audience and communicating with us — except when she seemed to be sharing a private joke with her band, which was also a pleasure to watch. She confessed her social anxieties, describing a time when she sat in a car during a party rather than face a group of strangers as a prelude to Frank Loesser’s “I Believe in You” from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

Salvant, who is French-Haitian-American (born in Miami of a French mother and a Haitian father), performed most of the show in English, with one exception: “Il m’a vue nue,” a song about skinny dipping first recorded by the early 20th-century French superstar Mistinguett in 1926. Those French!

Despite Salvant’s incredible voice, she does not hog the stage. Salvant’s amazing pianist Sullivan Fortner, who turns piano keys into sonic honey, drummer Savannah Harris (a thrill to see a woman on drums, and especially a woman of such restraint and skill!), and bassist Yasushi Nakamura all offered solo performances as well as providing an especially complex mix of percussion, rhythm, and melodic support on Sting’s “Until….” Salvant is a composer and lyricist as well as an interpreter, and the performance included a medley of her own beautiful compositions “Fog” and “Left Over,” bookending the course of a love affair through its beginning and aftermath. These were followed by Cole Porter’s “Ridin’ High” and Aretha Franklin’s “One Step Ahead.” An encore offered Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights,” a one-woman mini-opera.

The variety of these selections conveys the range and complexity of Salvant’s repertoire. She is so comfortable, so intuitive in her performance, that she stopped a couple of times to consult with Fortner about what to play next. She casually said that while they had a prepared a set list, she wanted to go with the “feelings,” i.e., what she was receiving from the audience, to determine the appropriate next number.

The only thing wrong with this performance was that it was only one night. Wynton Marsalis has said of Salvant that she is a singer who comes along only “once in a generation or two.” There are a few more US performances before she heads overseas, where she performs far more frequently. Check Salvant’s tour dates for the next opportunity to hear — and witness — this remarkable artist.

photos by Robert Torres/Celebrity Series of Boston

Cécile McLorin Salvant Quartet
presented by Celebrity Series of Boston
reviewed February 2, 2024 at Sanders Theater in Cambridge MA
for more info, visit Cécile McLorin Salvant

Leave a Comment