Cecile McLorin Salvant – The Window – Mack Avenue Records #Mac 1132 – 70:21 – ****1/2

(Cecile McLorin Salvant – vocals; Sullivan Fortner – piano, organ; Melissa Aldana – tenor sax on “The Peacocks”)

Since winning the 2010 Thelonious Monk Jazz vocalist competition, Cecile McLorin Salvant’s career has been on a rocket ship trajectory. Her first CD, WomanChild, received a Grammy nomination, while her second release, For One to Love, won a Grammy for Best Vocal album in 2016. She is on a winning streak on Downbeat Magazine’s Best Vocalist awards.

Her fourth release for Mack Avenue Records will be issued later this month and it explores the nature of love in an intimate piano vocal duo setting with the rising piano star, Sullivan Fortner. Recorded at New York’s iconic club, The Village Vanguard, the audience’s interaction is kept at a minimum, leaving the listener to form their own conclusions, likely though to coincide with the rapturous reception that Salvant receives at her concerts. (Recently a You Tube video with Cecile singing in an airport waiting lounge while sitting on the floor with other fliers, has gone viral…).

On her new CD, The Window, Salvant visits the joys and agonies of falling in and out of love, using the classic tunes of Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Alec Wilder, Bernstein/Sondheim, and Cy Coleman. In addition she gives a new reading to Stevie Wonder’s “Visions” as well as her own , “A Clef.”

A constant throughout all selections is Salvant’s wondrous vocal range, her care with her delivery going from sly and vulnerable, to swaggering and sassy. She brings to mind Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, a comparison that few present day vocal artists can even come close to. With her gift for enunciation, Cecile lets you savor and appreciate the lyrics of the masters of the Great American songbook. Sullivan Fortner is a brilliant collaborator, going well beyond comping to full improvisation, with Cecile as a partner in an intimate dance pattern. He gets plenty of space to fully explore and embellish.

On Stevie Wonder’s “Visions” Fortner’s notes cascade like a waterfall as Salvant emotes about the “visions in our mind,” while “all things (love) have an ending.” Cecile sings about heartbreak and misery on “One Step Ahead” in an intriguing coquettish fashion. “By Myself” deals with self confidence, and as the tempo quickens Cecile’s tone reflects a convincing growth. Sullivan has some great stride piano lines in his accompaniment.

The Sweetest Sounds” is a feature for Fortner, and he brings to mind, Hank Jones, with his light touch and strong sense of swing, while Salvant states “the sweetest love is waiting somewhere for me.” “Ever Since the One I Love’s Been Gone” explores loves breakup with flourishes by Fortner, as Cecile states “I’m like a King without his throne.”

There are two tracks with French lyrics, “A Clef” and “J’Ai L’Cafard.” It would have been great to have translations. The later, with Sullivan on organ has a 30’s European cabaret vibe. On “Somewhere” from West Side Story, Salvant competes with Garland and Streisand for emotional impact, drawing out the lyrics while Fortner takes the piano to symphony hall heights.

Other winning numbers include “The Gentleman is a Dope” with its hip lyrics combined with a longing sadness, as well as “I’ve Got Your Number” which has a “don’t you mess with me” attitude, yet with an unsureness creeping in (“I’ve got your number and baby, you’ve got mine..)

On the closer, “The Peacocks,” Melissa Aldana guests on tenor sax adding an airy, breathy quality to the mysterious vibe that is created by the duo. At over nine and a half minutes, it is by far the longest track of the seventeen selections.

The Window is surely going to be another hit for this chanteuse. The duo setting will be a bonus for prospective new fans who will enjoy the intimate setting, much like witnessing a Broadway star with magnificent “chops.”

One Step Ahead
By Myself
The Sweetest Sounds
Ever Since the One I Love’s Been Gone
‘A Clef
Wild is Love
J’ai L’Cafard
The Gentleman is a Dope
Trouble is a Man
Were Thine That Special Face
I’ve Got Your Number
Tell Me Why
Everything I’ve Got Belongs to You
The Peacocks

-Jeff Krow