Review BY JOSH BREEDEN Special to The Post and Courier
The best singers live inside songs, and Saturday night at the College of Charleston’s Cistern Yard, Cécile McLorin Salvant did just that.
The 2010 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals award winner arrived in Charleston with great expectations hovering in the warm air. She has the training — Salvant studied at the Darius Milhaud Conservatory in Aix-en-Provence — and an iron-clad overseas reputation.
With consecutive slots in the Wells Fargo Jazz Series, however, the gauntlet seemed to have been laid.
Salvant, 22, began the evening waiting at the wings while her backing band, the Aaron Diehl Trio, laid down a crawling interlude. A few minutes in the singer walked onto the stage, grinning.
She started in on Billie Holiday’s “Sometimes I’m Happy, ” and never let up.
Red and blue lights illuminated the Cistern Yard’s outdoor stage as Salvant settled into her set. There was a jazz club aura about the place.
Trio drummer and Charleston resident Quentin Baxter kicked off the second tune, a smooth take on “John Henry,” with rim shots, bass drum, and spastic snare — an instrumental train sketch.
Salvant moved through the song in a fluid fashion, her pitched vocals descending into deep troughs of low-end boom.
“This is a dirty blues,” she said, prefacing a surly rendition of Bessie Smith’s “You’ve Got to Give Me Some.” Salvant’s cheeky metaphors gave way to applause, laughter and a touch of discomfort among a few.
There were over-the-shoulder looks and hip twists. She delivered each line with ample sass. Few vocalists would dare take on Bessie Smith in a live setting, and Salvant stuffed her set with two Smith numbers. Both were flawless.
Diehl and his trio shined on “Moody’s Mood for Love.” The 26-year-old composer-pianist swept through bassist Paul Sikivie’s mid-tempo thump with nimble, major key figures that dissolved into dissonant minor key crashes.