At Royce Hall, Cécile McLorin Salvant Bewitches the Audience with Vocal Stylings that Express a Level of Jazz Improvisation and Creative Explorations Rarely Experienced
By John Lavitt
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 01/27/23 – As the start of the new Center for the Art of Performance Season at UCLA (CAP UCLA), Cécile McLorin Salvant is a perfect choice. As a jazz singer with an accomplished band, she takes the stage and immediately blows the audience away with incredible vocal stylings and ingenuity. Indeed, the voluminous creativity of this performer, both vocally and visually, can be experienced both by listening to her albums and following her on Instagram.
After the first jazz standard, Cécile McLorin Salvant shows her adaptiveness and range by singing a sparkling version of Irving Berlin’s “There’s No Business Like Show Business” from Annie Get Your Gun. Within the line of a song, the singer will change the timbre and tone of the voice to match the mood and the meaning. Quickly, she can jump from a little girl’s wondrous squeaking to the deep pathos of a world-wearied traveler. Indeed, never has this critic experienced a vocalist who so expertly transforms her voice into an improvisational instrument.
Moving from show tunes to Sarah Vaughan and back again, she jumps all over the map of vocal stylings, yet keeps the audience engaged emotionally. As described so well in the program, “Salvant is an eclectic curator, unearthing connections among vaudeville, blues, global folk traditions, theater, jazz and baroque music. Salvant won the Thelonious Monk competition in 2010. She received Grammy Awards for Best Jazz Vocal Album for three consecutive albums and garnered a MacArthur Fellowship and the Doris Duke Artist Award.”
However, such a virtuoso needs competent backing if she is going to succeed. Not surprisingly, Cécile McLorin Salvant has way more than qualified backing. Her quintet on stage is impressive to behold. On piano, Sullivan Fortner is a delightful presence with a close intimacy with Cécile McLorin Salvant that leads to profound creative interactions. As the pianist in trumpeter Roy Hargrove’s band from 2010 to 2017, Sullivan Fortner made his mark, and now he takes that mark and creates his vision of modern jazz with Cécile McLorin Salvant.
On guitars, Marvin Sewell is one of the greatest blues and jazz virtuosos that most people have not only not seen perform but never even heard his name. He provides a solid and steady presence to the band that significantly supports the whimsical investigations. On percussion, Keita Ogawa connects deeply with Sullivan Fortner, playing off the piano while providing a consistent and creative beat. Born in Nagasaki, Ogawa brings a playful spirit to the performance.
Lastly, but never to be ignored or forgotten, flutist Alexa Tarantino adds an ethereal quality to the performance as her music dances with the vocal stylings of Cécile McLorin Salvant. Fluid and lovely, Alexa Tarantino frees her last name from the violence of a certain director, providing a kind of redemption through a transcendent creativity. Combined with the rest of the band, Alexa helps make the Cécile McLorin Salvant Quintet a wonder to behold.
Walking into the cold night air after the show, there is a certain excitement. Once again, the performance offerings of CAP UCLA promise a wonderful 2023 of creative investigations.
Photos Courtesy of CAP UCLA and Cécile McLorin Salvant