Tag Archives: Cecile McLorin Salvant

Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2014: Zara McFarlane

Zara McFarlane, Palazzo Speigeltent, Monday July 21st *****

Not since American sensation Cecile McLorin Salvant took to the same stage three years ago has such a formidable new singing talent been launched on the Edinburgh Jazz Festival. Hearing Zara McFarlane on Monday night at the Speigeltent, it was impossible not to feel that you were in the presence of a future great; the next big thing.

McFarlane has a commanding, stately stage presence. At the Speiegeltent, the young British singer gently swivelled on the spot to draw in the attention of – and effortlessly seduce – an audience that very quickly fell under her spell thank to her beautiful, clear and soulful voice, wide vocal range, and unfussy, unshowy style.

She may only be 30 years of age, but McFarlane exuded the air of an older spirit, someone who has lived, loved and lost – and her songwriting skills (most of the songs were her own compositions) made the most of that. Simple, catchy melodies combined with extraordinarily eloquent lyrics are her signature, and she has a beguiling way of painting a portrait, and evoking a situation or feelings – notably on the sultry Woman in the Olive Groves, You’ll Get Me In Trouble and the gorgeous ballad, Love.

Her very personable patter between numbers further endeared her to the enthusiastic crowd, and provided the background to her songs. More Than Mine, which was by turns funny, nightmarish and bitchy, was inspired by bumping into her ex with his new flame, and drawing comparisons. Safe to say McFarlane would have been the winner in the singing stakes …

First published in The Scotsman, Saturday July 26th

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2012 in Videos: World Jazz Orchestra

You can read my review of this concert here. For the full list of musicians in the World Jazz Orchestra, scroll down to the bottom of this post.

And here’s a snippet of the orchestra’s take on Black, Brown and Beige – sadly, because the arrangements hadn’t arrived, more of the suite wasn’t played so this is a tantalising taster 

Edinburgh Jazz Festival World Jazz Orchestra

Director: Joe Temperley (baritone sax & bass clarinet)

Trumpets: Anders Gustafsson (Sweden), Frank Brodahl (Norway), Florian Menzel (Germany), Itamar Borochov (Israel)

Trombones: John Allred (USA), Jan Oosting (Netherlands), Jung Joogwha (South Korea)

Saxes: Jesper Thilo (tenor, clarinet; Denmark), Karolina Strassmayer (alto; Austria), Naoyuki Takano (alto, clarinet; Japan), Michael Buckley (tenor, soprano; Ireland), Lisa Parrot (baritone; Australia)

Piano: Aaron Diehl (USA)

Bass: Pierre Maingourd (France)

Drums: Tom Gordon (Scotland)

Vocals: Cecile McLorin Salvant (France/USA)

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2012: World Jazz Orchestra

World Jazz Orchestra, Festival Theatre, Saturday July 28th

****

Talk about pulling it out of the bag. Saturday night’s prestigious concert by the World Jazz Orchestra, a band specially formed for this year’s Edinburgh Jazz Festival, was terrific – but it did not feature the programme that organisers or its director, Joe Temperley, had in mind.

It didn’t feature the new black suit that Mrs Temperley had bought for her octogenarian husband to wear, either. It, plus Mrs T, plus some of the music that was going to be played, were stuck on a seriously delayed plane, which only took off from Newark as the concert ended. Anyone else might have been fazed, but Temperley instead delivered a concert which was packed with magic moments from the repertoire of Duke Ellington; just not the magic moments that had been intended.

The members of this band may have come from every corner of the globe (and may not have met until Friday) but they certainly gelled over the wonderful music that they played. It was a thrill to musicians of this calibre performing transcribed arrangements of such classic Ellington recordings as Rockin’ in Rhythm, Harlem Airshaft and Oclupaca, one of the few parts of the original programme of Ellington suites that wasn’t being flown in. The Work Song from Black, Brown and Beige was a tantalising glimpse of what might have been – and may well be, when Temperley returns to Scotland later in the year some Ellington concerts.

Among those who stood out were trombonist John Allred, pianist Aaron Diehl and Cecile McLorin Salvant whose vocals were the icing on an already scrumptious cake. Indeed, the highlight of the night was a Mood Indigo which featured those three plus Temperley on bass clarinet.

First published in The Herald, Monday July 30th

Edinburgh Jazz Festival World Jazz Orchestra

Director: Joe Temperley (baritone sax & bass clarinet)

Trumpets: Anders Gustafsson (Sweden), Frank Brodahl (Norway), Florian Menzel (Germany), Itamar Borochov (Israel)

Trombones: John Allred (USA), Jan Oosting (Netherlands), Jung Joogwha (South Korea)

Saxes: Jesper Thilo (tenor, clarinet; Denmark), Karolina Strassmayer (alto; Austria), Naoyuki Takano (alto, clarinet; Japan), Michael Buckley (tenor, soprano; Ireland), Lisa Parrot (baritone; Australia)

Piano: Aaron Diehl (USA)

Bass: Pierre Maingourd (France)

Drums: Tom Gordon (Scotland)

Vocals: Cecile McLorin Salvant (France/USA)

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2012: Cecile McLorin Salvant Quartet

Cecile McLorin Salvant Quartet, Salon Elegance, Thursday July 26th 

****

It’s not often you feel you’re in the presence of greatness but there was probably not one person in the Salon Elegance tent at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival on Thursday night who did not sense that they were in close proximity to a great new voice.

The 22-year-old singer Cecile McLorin Salvant is quite something to behold. She has an extraordinarily versatile voice which mesmerised the audience whether she was singing a gentle ballad or putting over a sexy, salty blues. Only the recurring problem of the beat of the music from elsewhere in George Square infiltrating the tent threatened to snap anyone out of the Salvant spell which was especially effective on the gorgeous ballads There’s a Lull in My Life and Born To Be Blue, both of which showcased the luscious, rich quality to her wide-ranging voice and the way she brings every word to life.

That aspect was particularly evident on Love For Sale where her habits of distorting vowels, plunging deep into her range and making unexpectedly ugly sounds were used to powerful, dramatic effect, underlying her disgust at the scene she was depicting – a technique which brought Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit to mind. The tragic piece of folk lore encapsulated in a spiritual entitled John Henry also benefitted from Salvant’s gift for storytelling. That song was one of a handful which might be almost five times as old as she is: it was a glorious treat to hear the seldom-performed blues Oh Daddy and to be introduced to Bert Williams song Nobody.

Many of the songs may have been from the 1920s and 1930s, but Salvant brought them vividly back to life – and, what was surprising was the agelessness about her performance: only such jubilant, energetic numbers as the wonderful Valaida Snow song I Can’t Dance (I Got Ants in My Pants) and What a Little Moonlight Can Do served as a reminder of the fact that she is not an older singer.

First published in The Herald, Monday July 30th

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Ellington’s World Comes to Edinburgh

One of the most prestigious – and ambitious – items in this year’s Edinburgh Jazz Festival programme is a concert by a brand-new, specially-formed band on the penultimate night of the ten-day event. And, bizarrely, we have the Olympics to thank for it ..

Festival producer Roger Spence explains: “The idea is that in the Olympic year, when people are coming from all over the world to London, we thought we could create a concert programme which reflects jazz as an international music. In recent years, we’ve established the Edinburgh Jazz Festival Orchestra – the concept of which is to blend eight Scottish musicians with eight international ones – but with the World Jazz Orchestra, every single member of the band comes from a different country – we have musicians coming from all over the globe.”

Taking this idea and running with it, 100-metre style, Spence realised that there was one obvious body of work from which a programme could be formed for this melting pot band. “We know that jazz is international but we wanted music with a universal appeal and for a big event like this, we had to choose a composer who is regarded by many as the very best – so we chose Duke Ellington. And the wonderful thing about Duke Ellington as far as this project is concerned, is that he wrote music inspired by music and countries all over the world. We can reflect different flavours of world music through the prism of one composer.”

The choice of Duke Ellington led straight back to Scotland and to the jazz festival itself: over recent years, the great, Fife-born baritone saxophonist and one-time member of the Ellington band Joe Temperley (pictured above) has forged a strong relationship with the festival. “He was the obvious choice to lead the World Jazz Orchestra,” explains Spence. Temperley is more familiar than most with the vast Ellington repertoire: not only did he play in the band, following the death of its original baritone saxophonist Harry Carney, but he has also – in the context of his membership of Wynton Marsalis’s acclaimed Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra – played many of the Duke’s seldom-performed suites.

And key excerpts from one such suite are at the heart of next Saturday’s concert. Along with such exotic pieces as the Far East Suite and the Latin-American Suite, the orchestra will play some of Ellington’s landmark Black, Brown and Beige, which was performed for the first time by the Ellington band for its Carnegie Hall debut in 1943. This historic concert in aid of Russian War Relief was sold out (3000 seats) days beforehand but the demand for tickets remained so intense that a further 200 people were seated on the stage.

For Ellington aficionados, the 47-minute tone poem, which fused jazz, blues, spirituals and Spanish influences, and reflected the Afro-American experience from the arrival of the first wave of slaves off boats in 1619, was a thrill to hear – though the critics were not as quick to embrace this, the jazz composer’s first, full-blown suite. Jazz critics worried that he was forsaking jazz (though he had written a number of extended compositions before, including Symphony in Black which had similar themes), while the classical world was dismissive of his aspirations as a “serious” composer.

Indeed, Ellington – who later said: “We stopped using the word jazz in 1943; that was the point when we didn’t believe in categories” – never performed it again in its entirety in concert though he recorded numerous versions of it. Some parts of it – notably the magnificent spiritual Come Sunday, written for the alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges and performed by him at Carnegie Hall almost before the ink had dried on the arrangements – have taken on a life of their own. On the Ellington orchestra’s 1958 recording of Black, Brown and Beige, Come Sunday was sung by Mahalia Jackson. Since then, vocalists as diverse as jazz singer Lee Wiley and soul singer Gladys Knight have performed it – and in Edinburgh next week, it will be sung by Cecile McLorin Salvant, whom Temperley recommended for the job.

For the octogenarian musician, it’s a joy to be able to bring this music to an Edinburgh audience. “I love Black, Brown and Beige,” he says. “It’s one of my very favourite Ellington suites. I’m particularly fond of the version with Ben Webster where he plays the solo on The Blues. We’ll be doing that piece in Edinburgh, with the Danish tenor saxophonist Jesper Thilo following in the footsteps of Webster, Al Sears and Paul Gonsalves.”

Of course, Black, Brown and Beige – as with all of Ellington’s work – was written specifically for the musicians in his band at the time; for their individual and combined sounds. Temperley says: “The secret of Ellington’s success was the ‘Ellingtonians’ – Harry Carney, Ben Webster, Cootie Williams, Johnny Hodges etc. He wrote for them. It was like a Shakespeare company. It was more than a band; it was a collection of individuals that came together and were marshalled together in an unusual way – those different voicings he used, like two trombones and a baritone.. He did not have those in mind harmonically; he was thinking of the personalities of the musicians who’d be playing.”

Given this, is it more of a challenge to play Ellington’s music; do you approach it differently? “I would say so. If you play a Basie arrangement, it’s pretty straight-ahead. With Ellington, you have to bear in mind the people who went before, and not try to impersonate them. Of course you’re influenced by them, but you shouldn’t try to sound like them.” A tall order – but Temperley and his international team will no doubt have earned their gold medals by the time they’ve completed their Ellington marathon.

* The World Jazz Orchestra plays at the Festival Theatre on Saturday, July 28. For more information visit www.edinburghjazzfestival.com

First published in The Scotsman, Thursday July 19, 2012

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2011: Ken Mathieson’s Classic Jazz Orchestra with Cecile McLorin Salvant

Ken Mathieson’s Classic Jazz Orchestra, Spiegeltent, Sunday July 24th ****

Whether it was the Spiegeltent audience’s enthusiastic reception or the fact that they were able to play their favourite tunes – as opposed to being limited to one or two composers’ output – the musicians of the Classic Jazz Orchestra were in especially fine form for their Sunday night session.

As leader Ken Mathieson has often explained, this band draws its repertoire from right across the first half-century of jazz, from the 1920s through to the 1960s – and Sunday’s varied programme was effectively a musical version of this manifesto. Both sets kicked off with numbers recorded definitively by cornettist Bix Beiderbecke in the years running up to his 1931 death (it was a treat to hear Way Down Yonder in New Orleans again, with the band playing Beiderbecke’s glorious solo as part of the arrangement) before moving on to tunes ranging from Jelly Roll Morton to Gerry Mulligan, with one of their new party pieces- Antonio Carlos Jobim’s slithery Waters of March a particular highlight.

Cecile McLorin Salvant, the young American singer who made her debut in Edinburgh this weekend, joined the band for a handful of songs – and blew the audience away. Her lovely, bright voice and habit of paring down the tune and holding back on the beat recalled Billie Holiday on the bouncier tunes, yet she displayed Sarah Vaughan’s ugly-beauty approach when it came to her stand-out song, the ballad Born to Be Blue.

(First published in The Scotsman, Tuesday July 26th)

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