Cécile McLorin Salvant – The Window (Mack Avenue)

In the still-formative yet substantial recorded output of Cécile McLorin Salvant, the Miami-born vocalist has worked wonders and managed feats of imagination with a piano trio backing her uniquely limber vocals. And so it is both surprising and contextually logical that her latest recording, The Window, finds her paring down to the minimal essence of a duet: her masterful voice and the piano of the dazzling Sullivan Fortner, a talent deserving wider recognition. Along the way, Fortner adds a sprinkling of Hammond B-3, and Melissa Aldana makes a cameo on tenor sax.

A 17-track adventure, The Window organically and emotively charms listeners while challenging them intellectually. A loosely themed song cycle riffs on love and showcases Salvant’s deft linkage to jazz — she possesses an Ella Fitzgerald-like nuance and power — as well as to archival blues, and provides room for her fluid sense of theater and Francophile tendencies (as on her teasing miniature “A Clef”).

Dodging familiar standards, Salvant finds inspiration in obscurities from Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Alec Wilder, but also lends a bright new arrangement to “Somewhere” (synched with Leonard Bernstein’s centennial). The album opens on a memorable note with an almost revelatory arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s “Visions,” highlighting the prophetic sophistication of Wonder’s ’70s music.

Fortner continually impresses with his flowing inventiveness and versatility, which stands out on his post-modern solo on “The Sweetest Sounds”; a tour de force performance on “I’ve Got Your Number”; and a semi-minimalist fantasia of a solo on “Somewhere.”

As a choice finale, the Jimmy Rowles classic “The Peacocks,” with lyrics by Norma Winstone, is the album’s lengthiest, most openly jazz-steeped track. Aldana’s striking, Wayne Shorter-esque solo, breathy and mystical, provides an ideal detour from the voice-piano format. The saxophonist joins Salvant on the bridge of this haunting, chromatic jigsaw melody, which is given new expressive life. The tune serves as a contemplative high note of The Window, another treasure in Salvant’s evolving discography.— Josef Woodard

Feature photo by Mark Fitton

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