It seems safe to posit that Cécile McLorin Salvant is not only the most successful female jazz singer to emerge since the turn of the millennium but also the most dynamically skilled, an opinion that this double-disc set of live recordings solidifies. On board are her regular bandmates—drummer Lawrence Leathers, bassist Paul Sikivie and, the essential yin to her yang, pianist Aaron Diehl. The Catalyst Quartet adds strings on select tracks. Captured in New York, these exquisitely molded sessions span September and December 2016 dates at, respectively, the Village Vanguard and the DiMenna Center for Classical Music, in Hell’s Kitchen.
Rather unique among live offerings, Dreams and Daggers does not focus on revisiting earlier studio work. Indeed, among the 23 tracks, only one, “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” is culled from McLorin’s prior albums. More than a dozen fresh covers extend from Ida Cox’s “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues” and Bessie Smith’s “You’ve Got to Give Me Some”—Salvant alone with guest pianist Sullivan Fortner—to a double-dip into the Bob Dorough songbook for “Devil May Care” and “Nothing Like You.” She twice nods to the poetry of Langston Hughes, and indulges her penchant for quirkier Broadway fare with a lilting “If a Girl Isn’t Pretty.” Four of five originals serve as brief, clever interstitials. The fifth, “More,” defines a marvelously theatrical, strings-drenched yearn for heightened romantic fulfillment.