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Sarah Vaughan, with a few sparks of Betty Carter and Abbey Lincoln.
Closing out a long day, lights dimmed, no phones, no Internet, no knocks on the door or other noise to distract. Accompanied by a half bottle of a good pinot noir.
Film noir all the way. Picture “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” as a light accompaniment to nuclear holocaust in Kiss Me Deadly.
Cécile McLorin Salvant burst on the scene in 2013 as jazz’s hot new vocalist by way of her acclaimed Woman Child album. She had already won first place at the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition in 2010, and her prize included a recording contract with Mack Avenue. Salvant further fulfilled her promise with 2015’s For One to Love, another 2LP studio recording. Her third Mack Avenue release, Dreams and Daggers, takes the form of a 3LP live recording from the Village Vanguard in New York.
The singer has toured extensively to promote each album, and with each successive year, her stage presence and confidence have grown. Originally a somewhat awkward performer, she now shows a developed sense of onstage maturity and control at which she only hinted a few years ago. And my, does it show on this recording! She struts, coos, and remains in complete control of her instrument and her audience. Playing mostly well-worn show and jazz standards with lyrics many listeners know by heart—along with a handful of her own compositions—Salvant sounds at once familiar and unique, her phrasing and pace both fresh and timeless. While her first two Mack Avenue efforts stand among the best jazz releases of their respective years, you need to reach back decades for anything as original and captivating as Dreams and Daggers.
Salvant’s band—Aaron Diehl on piano, Paul Sikivie on bass, and Lawrence Leathers on percussion—matches the singer step for step. Sullivan Fortner appears as a guest pianist on a couple numbers and the Catalyst Quartet fills in with strings here and there. With six sides, you might expect a lull, but Salvant and her backing trio never stumble. The presence of myriad classic interpretations (“Mad About the Boy,” “You’re My Thrill,” “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues” are several standouts) adds up to an unforgettable album.
I’ve always wondered how engineers capture good sound at the Village Vanguard (given its shape and size), but they do, and this is as good as it gets for live jazz recordings. Each instrument features exceptional balance, sounding the akin to the finest golden-age studio recordings. And you don’t need to play the record loud. Just eliminate the background distractions in your listening space and enjoy the low-level detail without unduly elevating the preamp gain.
The only nit to pick here relates to the packaging. The liner notes are reduced to one page—six sides of song and production credits distilled to a font size appropriate for a CD booklet. A couple extra sheets of paper would have solved the problem. Also, the front cover photo of Salvant checking her makeup in a compact, with an orange toilet shag rug below, feels too artsy.
Last chance to change your mind...