Live Review: Cécile McLorin Salvant @ QPAC, Brisbane

25 October 2023 | 6:31 pm | Ray Shindo

Salvant's performance undoubtedly captivated the hearts of those who may not typically identify as jazz enthusiasts.

Cécile McLorin Salvant

Cécile McLorin Salvant (Facebook)

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A unique theatrical sensation washes over the audience, as if being drawn into a captivating dream and longing to immerse in its lingering magic. Tiana Khasi graces the stage with a soft cherry blossom glow enveloping her presence, evoking an aura that is both sweet and empowering. Her voice, dipped in soulful shimmer, invites us to explore the depths of emotion in music. Accompanied solely by a guitar and a set of conga drums, Khasi seamlessly transcends the confines of jazz, soul, and R&B.

Khasi possesses a natural husky voice that bestows it with a distinctive edge, while retaining a sweet and melodious quality. Each lyric and melody feels like an intimate confession, and her magnetic stage presence envelops the room with a warmth that touches every heart present.

Her rendition of Ella Fitzgerald's Black Coffee stands as a strikingly original take, distinctly her own. While her youthful timbre may not have reached the depths that Fitzgerald's rendition demands, it serves as a reminder that music defies rigid molds and can't be confined within cookie-cutter boundaries.

In her final performance, Khasi presents a Samoan melody, one that initially appeared to her as a love serenade to a beloved, only to reveal itself as a heartfelt ode to the land. Her deep-rooted connection to her motherland, an emotion unparalleled by any other, is evident in the tears that well in our eyes. Although the language may have been unfamiliar, her voice beautifully conveys the intended emotion.

As a brief intermission swells with anticipation, the theatre remains infused with soul. Cécile McLorin Salvant illuminates the stage as the last audience member takes their seat, her jovial presence welcomed with a gracious applause. The entire room falls into an enchanted silence and she delves into her opening number, One Step Ahead.

Accompanied by a modest trio comprising piano, double bass, and drums, Salvant’s unassuming yet passionate presence seizes the spotlight. Her voice serves more than a vessel for melody and lyrics; it becomes a medium for storytelling, deftly guiding our emotions through her vocal expressions. She appears almost nonchalant, effortlessly engaging with the audience, creating an intimate atmosphere that contrasts the grandeur of the concert hall.

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Salvant’s approach allows her voice to be an extension of herself, particularly evident in All Or Nothing At All, where she uses her entire body to express the music. For those familiar with Frank Sinatra’s recording, her interpretation renders it almost unrecognisable, delivered in a musical theatre-esque manner. Her vocal range weaves in and out of the melody, effectively conveying the emotions set in the lyrics.

While Salvant is unquestionably the star of the show, she graciously highlights the trio, featuring Sullivan Fortner on piano, Kyle Poole on drums, and Yasushi Nakamura on bass. Instrumental solos are peppered throughout the show, emphasising the individual artistry of each instrument as an independent performer.

As the set progresses, Salvant surrenders herself to the music, and the audience willingly follows her lead. An operatic piece paints a vivid story, with Salvant's ever-changing tones mirroring the emotional crests and troughs of the narrative.

Her original composition Moon Song takes us into Salvant's state of elusive yearning, where the piano interlude serves as an integral part of her storytelling. The instruments seem to embrace her presence, as if sharing secrets among themselves, amplifying her stirring contemplations.

In her live rendition of another original piece, Fog, the song's emotional depth becomes even more pronounced. Her interpretation on stage adds an extra layer of intensity, with gradual tempo changes and emotional shifts brought vividly to life. Her capacity to convey the feelings of heartache and acceptance in real-time underscores her artistry, leaving the audience deeply moved.

As the night nears its conclusion, Salvant offers a delightful rendition of Rodgers And Hammerstein’s Maria. She claims it’s her third favorite song from The Sound Of Music but shares a fondness for the song particularly because it was featured in an episode of Seinfeld. She then gifts us with a rendition of her favorite song from the musical, Climb Every Mountain. Salvant's voice soars to remarkable heights, reaching into the souls of every listener.

Returning one last time for an encore, the cool jazzy air dissipates as she injects laughter into the room with Stephen Sondheim’s Getting Married Today. The audience can't help but rise to their feet in a standing ovation, applauding the incredible artist who has opened doors to jazz for a new generation.

Salvant's performance undoubtedly captivated the hearts of those who may not typically identify as jazz enthusiasts, showcasing her intuitiveness in blending jazz into songs of different genres. Her exceptional ability in singing across such diverse musical styles, coupled with her compelling storytelling have indeed reshaped the landscape of jazz.