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Woman Child is Cécile McLorin Salvant’s second album (and her first for a North American label).
Woman Child is Cécile McLorin Salvant’s second album (and her first for a North American label).

Salvant shows off her effortless talent Add to ...

  • Title Woman Child
  • Artist Cécile McLorin Salvant
  • Label Mack Avenue
  • Genre Jazz
  • Rating 3.5/4

About two-thirds of the way through her performance of the Rodgers and Hart chestnut I Didn’t Know What Time It Was, Cécile McLorin Salvant gets playful with her phrasing, breaking the lyric into one-or-two-word nibbles.

Musically, it’s a clever gambit because it sets the rhythm of the vocal line against the lean, after-beat accents of the bass and piano. Interpretively, it’s even smarter, because it vividly conveys the disorientation the song’s protagonist felt before meeting her one true love.

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But the most impressive thing about the passage is how utterly effortless Salvant makes the whole thing seem. In an age when many young singers seem compelled to show how much work it is to sing a standard, Salvant – a 23-year-old Franco-American who won the Thelonious Monk competition in 2010 – quietly goes straight to the heart of a song, directing our attention not to her bag of vocal tricks, but to the logic and emotional content of the music.

That’s not to suggest she’s above pulling out all stops. Her take on What a Little Moonlight Can Do is an absolute dazzler, from the slow, wordless improvisation at the beginning to the rafter-rattling high notes at the end. It’s an audacious performance, gleefully swinging, piercingly funny and full of rhythmic twists that would seem eccentric in another singer’s hands but feel absolutely right in hers.

Woman Child is only her second album (and her first for a North American label), but it’s a work of remarkable maturity. Salvant may have the taste of a jazz classicist – her song selection draws heavily on the music of the 1920s and ’30s, while her rhythm section was recruited from the ranks of Wynton Marsalis’ Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra – but she’s not a musical conservative, and sings as if she’s more interested in having fun with the music than in offering cultural insight.

Occasionally, a song will get the better of her. Although her rendition of the traditional John Henry tries mightily to square the tragedy of the lyric with the exuberance of the melody, Salvant’s determination to remind us that this is a song about a man who literally worked himself to death seems at odds with the theme of heroism the song itself assumes. And while it makes sense to attach an instrumental prelude to the lesser-known Mack Gordon song There’s a Lull in My Life, it’s hard not to wish that pianist Aaron Diehl and his mates weren’t so anxious to show off in it.

Still, these are quibbles, and hardly outweigh the pleasures to be found here. From the playful, lilting phrases in Fats Waller’s Jitterbug Waltz to the way she darkens and broadens her tone to make the most of each “no” in Bert Williams’ Nobody, Salvant often does more in a single phrase than most jazz singers do in an entire album. Clearly, this is only the beginning.

MORE NEW RELEASES

TRIP HOP

  • False Idols
  • Tricky
  • False Idols

Ah, now, this is what I’m talking about. With his 10th album, the down-in-the-mouth trip-hop maestro is in darkly narcotic groove mood and back to the level – surpassing the level, Tricky himself will tell you – of his gauzy, sinister debut album from 1995, Maxinquaye. Female guest vocalists slip in and out of the room, but that’s Tricky whisper-rapping over spooky beats and a Chet Baker sample on the hypnotic Valentine. The energy picks up on Bonnie & Clyde, wicked for its spare, bluesy guitar lick. The brooding centrepiece Nothing’s Changed is a titular boast and mantra – 18 years on, Tricky is back to being the same. – Brad Wheeler

FOLK ROCK

  • The Hurry and the Harm
  • City and Colour
  • Dine Alone

“I don’t want to be revolutionary,” sings the miserablist with the wounded falsetto, “No, I’m just looking for the sweetest melody.” The song is Commentators, a (sweetly melodic) reaction to the mean-spirited hurters on the blogosphere – the amateurs with opinions on music. What will they think of Dallas Green’s fourth solo album (and first since his split with the hardcore act Alexisonfire)? Possibly that this man of constant sorrow is in a form that has come to be predictable, and that he is too comfortable in his gentle melancholia. The album is serene, worried and acoustic, with touches of organ and pedal-steel and nods perhaps to the harvest-minded Neil Young (The Hurry and the Harm) or James Taylor (Harder Than Stone). Lyrical themes though are a bummer, in mood and in unsubtle execution. Green’s goals are modest, and he has met them. – B.W.

POP

  • Desire Lines
  • Camera Obscura
  • 4AD

This is more charming music from the unsinkable Glasgow sentimentalists led by the neat and loquacious singer Tracyanne Campbell, the possible role model for the She side of She & Him. The vibe is seventies and retro-dreamy, which is perhaps a side effect of having My Morning Jacket’s Jim James around for background vocals. Campbell is the enjoyable lyricist as always, whether she’s couple-counselling in Kokomo – on the summery This is Love (Feels Alright) – or waxing romantic, as she does smartly on William’s Heart (“If it’s a single man or a single malt that I take in my arms when I’m feeling low / you’ll say honesty has made me cruel / I say you’re soft and made of wool”). It’s lovely stuff, really. If loving Camera Obscura is wrong, who wants to be right? – B.W.

CLASSICAL

  • Benjamin Britten: Les Illuminations, op. 18; Variations on a theme of Frank Bridge, op. 10; Serenade, op. 31, for tenor, horn and strings; Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal
  • Barbara Hannigan, soprano; James Gilchrist, tenor; Amsterdam Sinfonietta
  • Channel Classics

Les Illuminations, for high voice and orchestra, and the Serenade for tenor, horn and string orchestra are among Britten’s most popular vocal works, and, although there are many fine recordings of both pieces in the catalogue, this one is certainly competitive. Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan, whose high range is delectably pure, gives her version of Les Illuminations an ethereal radiance (compare it with the more voluptuous interpretation by Karina Gauvin, another Canadian, and Le Violons du Roy), in spite of somewhat lazy French diction. And while tenor James Gilchrist may be a less seductive singer than Ian Bostridge – the latter’s recording of the Serenade with the Berlin Philharmonic is one of the loveliest – he is also less precious. The balance between solo horn, tenor and orchestra is also so natural here (and so all-embracing) that we revel in its warmth and intimacy. – Elissa Poole

(Editor's note: An earlier web version of this article had the incorrect title of City and Colour's album. It has been corrected.)

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