In a Shirley Bassey-esque performance that will most certainly have “James Bond” film developers running after her heels, jazz vocalist Cecile Salvant gave listeners chills through a captivating performance Thursday night at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts.
Named by the New York Times as “the finest jazz singer to emerge in the last decade,” Salvant lived up to her already hyped up reputation, performing a mix of original songs and covers from other artists, like Silent-Generation-jazz-sensation Judy Garland, as well as a rendition of “Something’s Coming” from critically acclaimed play “West Side Story.”
alvant wasn’t the only one on the dimly lit purple and blue stage. Her backing band, composed of a drummer, bassist and pianist, all of whom demonstrated technical prowess in their field, with multiple lengthy and impressive instrumental segues and solos. One particular segment when the drummer and pianist played in an instrumental duo elicited cheers from the audience. The soft hits on the high-hats, the ever-so-present bass lines and lively jazz piano licks also simultaneously create an audial image reminiscent of a noir-esque, never-sleeping and constantly moving New York City night.
Nonetheless, all of the instrumentalists knew when to quietly move into the background and let Salvant tell whatever tale she decided to tell to listeners – be it a tale of falling in love or anything else. Listeners were treated to shades of Fantasia Barrino, as well as Ella Fitzgerald in her stage presence, boundary-pushing vocal range and immense control. Even her off-note cries in unconventional musical scales sounded gorgeous.
Salvant’s finest moments, however, didn’t come in moments where she showcased impressive, loud and even edgy vocal abilities. Rather, her power came in alternative moments of vulnerability, when the music slowed to a crawl and her intentionally desperate, breathy and fleeting croon could be heard. Yet, don’t mistake this emotional openness for weakness.
When the music stops, this isn’t a cue for her listeners to stop paying attention – it’s merely a moment of suspense, where they don’t know whether to applaud or not, and move closer, begging to hear what’s next in the melody. She playfully teases us, with alternative moments of sheer power and coy, controlled flirtatiousness. It’s both unbearable, daring and intimate.
Her adorable, cheerful voice in between performances, when she would sweetly lead audiences into the next song, only added to her charm. Yet on a rainy, cloudy and chilly night in Storrs during midterm season, it only made sense that Salvant and her band were there to transport her audience to a world of emotional turmoil, longing nostalgia and beautiful jazz.