A Double Bill of Song and Music: Cecile McLorin Salvant and The Spring Quartet at Jazz at Lincoln Center

It could be described as the musical calm before the storm. As the New York area was expecting yet another snow fall for the first weekend of March, Jazz at Lincoln Center offered up a enjoyable platter of music to counter any frost.

A double bill of two musical forms took place on Friday February 28th. They were the vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant and The Spring Quartet. The latter is made up of jazz veterans Jack DeJohnette, Joe Lovano and Esperanza Spalding.

The opening act was newcomer Cecile McLorin Salvant who was backed by her trio of accomplished musicians. They were Aaron Diehl on piano, Paul Sihivie on bass and Pete Van Nostrand playing the drums. This twenty four year old vocalist winner out of the 2010 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocal Competition put on a wonderful show. It was so exciting that one wished that she and her trio went beyond the fifty minute set that they performed.

It was enjoyable easy listening due to Ms. Salvant's clear crystal vocals and laid back style. This Miami born singer also had solid support from her musicians which added to the music.
They performed standards and some lesser known tunes. She opened with 'Nobody' by vaudevillian entertainer Bert Williams. It was followed by 'If This Isn't Love' from the Broadway show 'Finnian's Rainbow.' On Bob Dorough's 'I'm Hip,' Salvant made it a little bouncy in her vocal interpretation. The band were able to match her vocal bounciness rhythmically thru their playing. Ms. Salvant and her trio made the tune very playful. At one point, Ms. Salvant who is of this current generation, improvised by throwing in a reference of Miley Cyrus and her current Twerk dance craze.

As mentioned before, her trio provided strong solid support to the performance. Aaron Diehl who is emerging as one of this generation's great pianists showed his vast range at times. When Ms. Salvant was singing the famous 'Trolley Song,' Diehl produced notes which resemble the sounds of a trolley train moving. The audience was able to feel they were abroad a trolley thanks to Diehl's playing and Salvant's vocals. A few songs later, they had the stage to themselves as they explored Bessie Smith's 'You Got To Give Me Some.' In this duet, the pair were able to feed off each other musically on a tune that Salvant described as being a 'dirty blues.' Salvant's description became apparent as she stretched out the suggested lyrics for full vocal effect alongside Diehl's bluesy piano playing. Because Salvant did a great job of displaying the suggested lyrics, she ended up apologizing to her mother who was in the audience.

Ms. Salvant and her trio closed out with a soaring rendition of Leonard Bernstein's 'Something's Coming.' Salvant's crystal clear voice was able to convey a feeling of excitement and a little sadness while singing about a expected change.

It was a exciting set and with a solid rhythm section behind her, Salvant was not only able to show the influences of Betty Carter, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughn in her singing. Cecile McLorin Salvant was able to show her own distinctive style.

The main attraction of the night was The Spring Quartet, a new group on the scene in name only. The three leads have all played and recorded together in various settings in the past. As mentioned before, this group is made up of drummer Jack DeJohnette, saxophonist Joe Lovano, and bassist Esperanza Spalding. Leo Genovese handled the piano duties.

It's somewhat ironic that The Spring Quartet would opened with a tune called, 'Spring Day.' This is due to the fact that the New York region and the northeast were having dealing with a very snowy winter. This original tune by Joe Lovano was very hard boppish and he wailed on his saxophone all the way thru it.
The second tune performed was 'Herbie's Hand Cocked,' a Jack DeJohnette original. This tune was a tribute to pianist Herbie Hancock. Esperanza Spalding started the introduction by plucking away on her bass. At times, it seemed that she was playing note by note, revealing a very folksy element to it. All the musicians followed after she got the tune started. At times the band's playing became very free. As they went from free to acoustic, each musician was able to display their prowess on their respectable instruments. Joe stretched out on his saxophone thru his wailing. Leo switched back and forth between the piano and electric keyboard. The band was also able to show the influence of Herbie Hancock in their playing. At times, I thought it was Hancock tune from his Mwandishi period. ( The tune's title was announced after the playing ended) The tune had elements of Hancock's Mwandishi era and his seventies Columbia period.

The next tune was another Joe Lovano original entitled, 'La Petite Opportune.' Jack opened with a fast and heavy drum solo which focused on a lot of cymbal brushing. The rest of the band followed DeJohnette's lead in playing in a free form. There were many improvisational moments which combined early bebop and hard bop. Leo Genovese went even further back on his solo which showed reflections of the stride piano era. Lovano and Spalding played against each other-often adding to this mixture of free jazz.

Esperanza Spalding gave a short philosophical chat before the group went into her tune, 'Hippasus Shrugged.' She asked the audience, 'What is the question?' Unfortunely Spalding's talk didn't go anywhere. There wasn't much substance and it came off as being contrived. Fortunely, the tune itself was interesting. Spalding started it off by singing in a mixture of scat and chanting while she played the bass. The band played softly behind her as the tune envolved into a ballad like piece.

Because I was seated in the rear of the orchestra, it was not hard to notice that people would leave when a tune finished. In some cases, people would get up to leave while a number was playing. I know people weren't leaving to prepare for the upcoming snow storm that was expected that Sunday March 2nd.
They were leaving due to the improvisational approach that the band was taking. It's too bad for those who left early, for they missed the fifth tune, 'TRF' which was described by DeJohnette as 'Temperature Risk Factor.' It was a lively tune as the band's opening chords were similar to the popular Aretha Franklin performed tune, 'Think.' The tune was fast and bouncy with a nice groove pattern which had elements of free jazz, gospel, and soul. Each musician contributed to the same bouncy rhythm feeling for the tune. Joe was the leader with his saxophone and he wailed all the way. When Joe stepped off, the band continued fast on this funky tune which resembled the soul jazz period of the 1960's.

When DeJohnette announced that the next tune was another Spalding original, I thought she would lead the band on a tune from her latest recording, 'Radio Music Society.' But instead of hearing a jazz tune laced with R+B trimmings, this tune called 'Shakey the Shark' was in the same free form mode that the band was already playing in. To everyone's amazement, Spalding pulled out a alto saxophone. Leo Genovese pulled out a soprano and Lovano switched over to tenor. They stood side by side as DeJohnette opened with a heavy drum solo. After he simmered down, the saxophone trio blew away in unision on this very short free form tune.

The finale started with Joe Lovano opening on clarinet with the band coming behind him very softly. Genovese came in with a piano solo which showed shades of the late Don Pullen. While Genovese marveled away, Lovano switched over to the flute. Lovano went back to the saxophone when he and DeJohnette played against each other. It was no battle between these two masters for they played in unision. They were matching each other which led the tune to become very free. Every musician played very well on their instruments. Jack DeJohnette as he did all night-showed why he is a master on the drums. He performed a long drum solo show his prowess. In his solo, DeJohnette was able to create the melody and rhythms which led this free form piece into a fast frenzy hard bop style.
Because of DeJohnette's guidance, the band was able to take off completely. The band's playing as a whole showed shades of sixties jazz. In their fast and swinging mode, they were able to project the sound of Blue Note Records, John Coltrane and free jazz. Genovese displayed McCoy Tyner vamping notes on the piano as the tune took off. This seventh and last tune played remained nameless due to no title was announced before of after. In any event, it was a great finish to a great concert. The Spring Quartet were given a standing ovation for their performance.

Those who left early due to the free form style didn't give this band a chance. While it mostly improvisational, they failed to take in consideration that the musicians who were playing to the fullest on their instruments stay grounded in their approach. The free playing displayed didn't rise up and leave Rose Hall with the listener left in the dust. The Spring Quartet played music that remained accessible for the audience to sit back, listen, and enjoy.

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Joseph Powell