Cécile McLorin Salvant, WomanChild

Kevin Whitehead

By Kevin Whitehead

on 08.28.13 in Reviews
An audacious and confident debut that radiates smart energy

Few modern jazz debuts have been as audacious and confident as 23-year-old singer Cécile McLorin Salvant’s WomanChild. The climactic “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” builds, recedes and then builds some more, heading for the most dramatic high-note finish since Sir Richard Harris’s “MacArthur Park.” There are moments when it sounds like there are four or five singers trapped inside, fighting to come out at once. It’s thrilling, and a little over the top. It’d be too much if she couldn’t be subtle too, as on “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was.” McLorin Salvant slides around the beat, shading her timbre all sorts of ways: veiled one moment, barrel-chested the next, cool Jeanne Lee morphing into diva Sarah Vaughan. Her taste in material is offbeat too; the most recent non-original is Fats Waller’s 1942 “Jitterbug Waltz,” where the singer plays piano with some that old Harlem-rhythm feel; it speaks to her love of odd corners of jazz history. The oldest of several oldies is the man-versus-machine ballad “John Henry,” where her usual pianist Aaron Diehl (fronting a crack trio) turns percussive prepared-piano effects into John Henry’s hammers. The program is deep and wide, and good humored — WomanChild radiates smart energy.