Review: Cécile McLorin Salvant brings big jazz voice to St. Cecilia

Cécile McLorin Salvant. (Supplied/Mark Fitton)

By K.D. Norris


60-second Review


Cécile McLorin Salvant, Dec. 8, at St. Cecilia Music Center, Grand Rapids, Mi. 


Cécile McLorin Salvant, the season opening performer for the St. Cecilia Music Center’s 2016-17 Jazz Series, brought a spectacular voice and mesmerizing presence to the stage Thursday for a 90-minute set.


Accompanied by the very tight Aaron Diehl Trio — with Diehl on piano, Paul Sikivie on bass and Lawrence Leathers on drums — McLorin Salvant opened her set with just Diehl’s piano and  singing “Lucky to be Me.” From that moment on, you were lucky to be in the audience.


The singer showed her versatility — heartbreaking to humorous; booming to a whisper — throughout the night,  with her set including a trio of Cole Porter songs, both well-known and little-known, and a hauntingly theatric song from the 1946 jazz-opera “Street Scene”, with lyrics by Langston Hughes.


My favorite song of the night was a stark, stripped-down version of the classic folk song “John Henry”, with special note given to Sikivie’s unique work on the base. My only disappointment was that all the songs were in English, which the native French speaker sings perfectly — S’il vous plaît, Cécile, un peu de Français.


McLorin Salvant ended the night as mesmerizingly as she started it, with “Tell Me What They are Saying Can’t be True.” It left you wanting more.


May I have more, please?


Having never heard McLorin Salvant before, I suspected a little hyperbole when some reviewers compared her to Ella Fitzgerald. But, listing to a local public radio jazz program before the concert, my wife, TJ — who knows her jazz —  remarked “I wonder who that is? She sounds like Ella.” Sure enough, the DJ confirmed the song was by the songstress we would see shortly.


Good enough recommendation for me.


It may still be a little early to compare the 27-year-old to Ella, but she does have an impressive resume: youngest winner the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition in 2010, her debut recording, “WomanChild”, nominated for a Grammy in 2014, and her follow-up recording, “For One to Love”, winning the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album this year.


And did I mention that she has a set of pipes? (Her singing voice is astounding.)