Cécile McLorin Salvant – Dreams And Daggers – Mack Avenue Records 

by | Dec 20, 2017 | Jazz CD Reviews

Cécile McLorin Salvant – Dreams And Daggers – Mack Avenue Records MAC1120 – 2CDs 112:05****

It is hard to imagine a more satisfying outcome from this ambitious project

( Aaron Diehl – piano; Paul Sikivie – double bass; Lawrence Leathers – drums; guests – The Catalyst Quartet;  Sullivan Fortner – piano)

Those iconic female jazz singers who are known singularly by their first names, Ella, Billie, and Sarah are not about to be dislodged easily from their lofty perch. However Cécile McLorin Salvant is certainly giving them a nudge, as her latest 2-CD set Dreams And Daggers will attest.

Combining two New York City sessions, one recorded at the Village Vanguard in September 2016, with a studio outing at Di Menna Center for Classical Music in December 2016, Salvant has delivered a disparate selection of original and other material that tell stories that may be released in dreams and guarded in life.

This high-concept release is filled with interesting interpretations of the material by Salvant backed by her usual trio of sharp instrumentalists namely pianist Aaron Diehl, bassist Paul Sikivie and drummer Lawrence Leathers. On the studio tracks, the classical string ensemble The Catalyst Quartet adds a fascinating new dynamic to the proceedings.

Salvant’s  vocal approach to the material has a declarative friskiness, full of self assurance, starting with Bob Dorough’s sly little number “Devil May Care”. Noel Coward’s “Mad About The Boy” which can be interpreted with a variety of meanings, is delivered with a wistful approach by Salvant and is supported with some complex piano coloration from Aaron Diehl.

In 1946, Kurt Weill(music) and poet Langston Hughes( lyrics) teamed up to write what they viewed as an American Opera entitled Street Scene. From that production, Salvant takes the listener though “Somehow I Never Could Believe” which espouses the theme of the power of believing in a better tomorrow. This is a very dramatic reading of the composition that capitalizes on Salvant’s fearlessly daring inclinations.

In 2010, Cécile McLorin Salvant won the prestigious Thelonious Monk Jazz Vocal Competition and has confirmed that acclaim with a career trajectory filled with insight and energy. She has shown to be equally at home on such diverse standards as “You’re My Thrill” which has a lush studio  arrangement with The Catalyst Quartet, followed Rodgers and Hart classic “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” that contains some Betty Carter styling.

Ms. Salvant’s ability to toggle to and from standard and unusual or lesser known material is equally impressive. Buddy Johnson was a jump blues pianist and singer, who on a dark night in a cold room, sounded remarkably like Billy Eckstine. One of his compositions is “ Tell Me What They’re Saying Can’t Be True”  on which Salvant digs deep to convey the story in the writing. Two other examples of non-traditional material are Bessie Smith’s “You’ve Got To Give Me Some” and the Ida Cox number “Wild Women Don’t Have The Blues”. On the former pianist Sullivan Fortner joins Salvant to ensure that all the double entendres are faithfully recognized. As for the latter, Salvant uses her voice as an instrument of urbanity and amusement all the while Diehl’s piano is in a bluesy mode.

It is hard to imagine a more satisfying outcome from this ambitious project.


CD1 And Yet; Devil May Care; Mad About The Boy; Sam Jones’ Blues; More; Never Will I Marry; Somehow I Never Could Believe; If A Girl Ain’t Pretty; Red Instead; Runnin’ Wild; The Best Thing For You;

CD2 You’re My Thrill; I Didn’t Know What Time It Was; Tell Me What They’re Saying Can’t Be True; Nothing Like You; You’ve Got To Give Me Some; The Worm; My Man’s Gone Now; Let’s Face The Music And Dance; Si J’étais Blanche; Fascination; Wild Women Don’t Have The Blues; You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me

—Pierre Giroux

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