Following up on a Down Beat winning live album at the Village Vanguard was never going to be an easy task, but singer Cécile McLorin Salvant is not one to rest on her laurels and has opted for a pared down piano plus vocals duo with Sullivan Fortner that once again demonstrates her virtuosity and versatility. The vast potential that was spotted back in 2010 when McLorin Salvant won the Thelonius Monk International jazz competition is now being fully realised. As ever, any album of hers features a judicious selection of quirky standards from the distant and recent past, originals, and on this occasion, more left field offerings that include the songwriting traditions of both Brazil and France.
First off, and Stevie Wonder’s ‘Visions’ is treated as a contemporary ballad with a lovely piano intro which is undoubtedly one of the most successful transposition into a vocal and piano duet. The songwriting duo of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein serve as continual musical sources from which Cécile has regularly derived inspiration and one of this writer’s favourites is the perennially humourous excursion on ‘The Gentleman is a Dope’, that enumerates the various shortcomings of the male species and in a near identical vein comes, ‘Trouble is a Man’. Supportive piano and soaring vocals are a feature of another of the songwriter duos repertoire, ‘Sweetest Sounds’. Meanwhile, the Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim pairing offers the wonderful ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story, and the subtle interpretation here has the piano playing the main motif in the intro and then veering into a medley of the musical that includes ‘I Love to Live in America’, which Cécile treats as a conventional ballad. Elsewhere, Cécile tackles Jimmy Rowles’ evergreen ‘The Peacocks’, and another Rodgers and Hammerstein original, ‘Everything I’ve Got Belongs To You’.
Extending out into less familiar songbook territory, McLorin Salvant excels on a mid-tempo reading of Dorival Caymmi’s ‘Obsession’ with English lyrics added, but comes into her very own on a couple of French languages songs that have all the feel of a native speaker. Accompanied by Fortner who alternates on organ for ‘J’ai L’Cafard’ (‘I have the blues’) evokes the French cabaret tradition of songwriting, while ‘À Clef’ merely reinforces belief that the singer should tackle an entire French language album at some point. Otherwise, a fine continuation of the singer-songwriter’s craft.