Saturday, November 11th, 2017

Cécile McLorin Salvant – Mad About the Boy

Fairly mad about her too.


John Seroff: The first time I heard Salvant live in a club, I was hopelessly smitten. Here was a woman, barely twenty, sounding for all the world like she had lived three lifetimes already and couldn’t wait to tell you about it. Early on in her career, Salvant found proper steel for her flint with regular collaborator Aaron Diehl, a fluent savant on the piano whose sinewy lyricism could hold its own against her wildly versatile vocals. That’s Diehl delicately creeping around “Mad About the Boy,” only a whisper ahead of Cécile, coaxing her forward into discovery. And what vibrant discoveries she does make among the curtains and crannies of this eighty-five year old Noël Coward standard: her pitiless strangulation of the word “sublime,” the flatly declamatory squonk of “MAD” Salvant lets loose after Diehl’s duet with bassist Paul Sikivie, her soft weeping on “saaaaaad,” the wryly pragmatic delivery of “I’ve got to pay my rental.” This is a rendition that’s both deeply aware of the song’s camp history and regularly references the phrasing and gloriously acrobatic trills of Dinah Washington’s original 1952 version without ever feeling indebted. It’s classic American songbook, retold fresh and vital. Earlier this year in The New Yorker, Wynton Marsalis called Salvant a singer you get “once in a generation or two.” I’m no traditionalist and plenty happy to see jazz diversifying into fertile fusion with hip hop and afrocentric rock via Thundercat, Kamasi, Glasper, Esperanza, Flying Lotus and the like, but with a throwback talent like Salvant producing work like this, I dearly wish a younger tastemaker than I would demand room for her on the pop radio dial. 

Rebecca A. Gowns: I’m actually a fan of Salvant and her 2013 album, “WomanChild”! I think her voice is fantastically supple and evocative. This particular song doesn’t cut it for me — she swoops a bit too far into cabaret melodrama for it to be effective. Not only that, but the trio musicians backing her are too distracting in the mix, popping up here and there with inessential fiddly bits. But again, I must emphasize: she’s a wonderful vocalist. This is just an odd lead single.

Anthony Easton: This might be the version of this song with the least “gay appeal’, really for both meaning. Gorgeous, meditative, and tasteful, with a solid understanding of classic jazz phrasing but with enough melancholic twinge to be more interesting. An extra point for some of the eccentric phrasing (how she emphasizes Some, for example)  

Josh Langhoff: Salvant’s many gifts converge in the most notable note of this Noel Coward cover — the moment when she punctuates a snaky piano solo by crowing the word “Mad!”, to laughter from her audience. (Ford Prefect would be jealous.) Her timing is impeccable; her presence inside this song she’s unearthed rips it into the present. Most spectacular is her voice, so versatile that calling it “versatile” seems an understatement, like calling Ella Fitzgerald’s joy-infused singing “happy.” Salvant uses the timbres of her predecessors like a spectrum of colors on a palette, but the resulting song sounds utterly contemporary, and unmistakeably like Cécile McLorin Salvant. 

Nortey Dowuona: This feels soft, plush and wet. The cascading piano, the jumpy bass, the soft, almost non-existent drums, and Cecile strides atop with both poise and delicacy. It feels, it yearns, it withdraws, it leans in and laughs, it looks and smiles wistfully. 

Alfred Soto: The tension between title and performance is familiar to jazz fans, and anticipating where Cécile McLorin Salvant will take this piece is fun for a while. But it doesn’t sustain interest past the three-minute mark.

Mo Kim: Seven minutes is a long time to hold attention for me, a person who usually writes half an email before saving it for later, but the moment where she intones, right after a drawling piano solo, “MAD”? Just take my credit card and buy me a good silk robe. Preferably one that flows a little bit over the staircase in the Nantucket mansion I gained ownership of after listening to this song.

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