Cecile McLorin Salvant: Ghost Song

The singer mixes straight jazz ballads with more esoteric material, including Kate Bush's big hit and some mesmeric chanting

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Ghost songs plural, really, with the title track and the ghosts of past loves coming into focus on many of the other selections. And then there is Wuthering Heights, with supernatural sounds and a wind blowing in the background as Ms Savant negotiates Kate Bush’s lyric in an otherworldly manner, not too different from the composer’s original. Cathy calling out ”Let me in your window” has never sounded quite so bleak since Emily Bronte’s gothic novel first hit the bookshops.

Then there is Optimistic Voices with the vocalist singing plaintively against Alexa Tarantino’s dancing flute lines. This track segues into Gregory Porter’s No Love Dying and here Cecile sings in a straight jazz ballad fashion. She has a unique voice, full and rich and very personal. Moon Song is again in jazz ballad mode and like the Porter it is an effective reading. Along with Ghost Song, two other pieces are about love gone wrong or love that did not work out and all are given intense vocal treatments.

I Lost My Mind is the most unlikely jazz track, with Ms Savant chanting several times: “I lost my mind. Can you help me find my mind?” Too much of this sort of thing and the listener tends to lose his or her mind. The singing here is backed by just Aaron Diehl, providing rich pipe-organ support. Thunderclouds is a sombre piece with text in the lyrics by Colette from her book La Seconde.

Cecile McLorin Salvant is a fascinating vocalist with a powerful voice and a varied approach to lyrics. At her best she is a fine singer of jazz ballads, but the esoteric effects here may well be an acquired taste for some jazz enthusiasts. The final Unquiet Grave is unaccompanied pure folk song, and it does bring out the best in her expressive, vibrant voice. There is good support from long-time collaborator Sullivan Fortner on piano and the varied approaches to jazz flute made by Alexa Tarantino.

Discography
Wuthering Heights; Optimistic Voices/ No Love Dying; Ghost Song; Obligation; I Lost My Mind; Moon Song; Trail Mix; The World Is Mean; Dead Poplar; Thunderclouds; Unquiet Grave (59.15)
Salvant (v, p); Sullivan Fortner (p); Alexa Tarantino (f); James Chirillo (bjo); Keita Ogawa (pc); Paul Sikivie (b); Kyle Poole (d). NYC, 7 October, 8 December 2020 & 9 February 2021. Also, 31 January 2021.
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