Last night at the Cistern, Cécile McLorin Salvant and the Aaron Diehl Trio performed to a near-full house, showing us where the new jazz generation is headed. My first thought, after seeing the Randy Weston sextet the night before, was, “Wow. They are all so young!” Salvant, 26, recently won a 2016 Grammy Award for album, For One to Love. Salvant’s style is funky and understated; she appeared onstage in her white-rimmed cat-eyed glasses, a blue smock dress and bright pink platform shoe. She sang songs from For One to Love, as well as others, wowing us with her first song, “Wild is Love.” Her sound and range are remarkable— from bright and sparklingly high to low and growly, she has the pipes. Her trio—Aaron Diehl on piano, Paul Sikivie on bass, and Lawrence Leathers on drums — all looked extremely young as well. While perhaps not as seasoned as musicians in the René Marie and Randy Weston groups, these players gave fun and fresh performances.
Many of her songs were happy-sounding jazz standards that made the audience smile and tap their feet. My personal favorite was “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues,” made famous by Ida Cox. Next Salvant sang “Nothing Like You Has Ever Been Seen Before,” by Bob Dorough. Salvant sings with effortless ease while making eye contact with audience members, giving you the feeling that she sees you.
With songs like “I Get a Kick Out of You” and “The Trolley Song,” from Meet Me in St. Louis, Salvant and fellow musicians showcased their ability to take old familiar songs and make them new. Audience members love to hear familiar tunes; while Diehl and Leathers were playing busily, revving up for the song Judy Garland made famous, a woman behind me excitedly whispered, “It is the trolley song!” Salvant’s humor and playfulness were evident in the way she sang with attitude songs like “What’s the Matter Now?” by Bessy Smith, and the tongue-in-cheek “Wives and Lovers,” a song by Bert Bacharach that gives some “interesting advice,” as Salvant told us. (In a recent NPR interview, she discusses this and other “anti-feminist” songs she sings.)
Salvant also sang slower, sadder songs, such as “Somehow I Never Could Believe,” from the opera Street Scenes. Langston Hughes wrote the lyrics for this particular song whose lyrics and sounds teeter between hope and despair, telling the story of a little girl who grows up in a bleak world, one where “greasy soap-suds drown our wishes,” a song that reminded me of Hughes’s poem “A Dream Deferred.” “Fog,” a song Salvant composed, was soft, haunting and mysterious at first, then becomes more dynamic.
For only three musicians, the trio produced a big sound. Diehl’s skills, in particular, were impressive, and Sikivie and Leathers also gave energetic performances. The last song, “Something’s Coming,” from West Side Story, best showcased their talents.
Though Salvant’s performance was brilliant, her interaction with the audience and with fellow musicians was not as energetic and generous as others, such as René Marie. Some audience members were waiting at the end, hoping she’d come back and give us one more song, but she didn’t. Still, her voice and presence are undeniable in the new jazz scene.