Dr. Perry Alexander

The University of Kansas

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Ghost Song - Cécile McLorin Salvant

I really hate the alt qualifier. alt this, alt that, I’m never sure how to read it. This morning I got a lesson in alt listening to two new jazz albums that I really love. The first is Ghost Song, a new album by Cécile McLorin Salvant. Aside from having killer chops, Salvant picks her vehicles quite well. Ghost Song opens with a cover of Wuthering Heights, the Kate Bush classic. But you won’t know it until about halfway through when your brain kicks in a recognizes something that’s sort of familiar. Then wham, Wuthering Heights is sitting right in front of you.

The next track covers a pair of songs, Optimistic Voices and No Love Dying. Do you know Optimistic Voices? I recognized it immediately and at the same time couldn’t place it. Think Wizard of Oz, Munchkins, and houses falling on witches. It’s the song the Munchkins celebrate with, but Salvant cranks up the tempo and ads a jazz backbeat that are just spectacular. Then before you know it the song transforms to No Love Dying, which I recognize as a Gregory Porter tune from one of my favorite vocal albums ever. How you transition from the Munchkin theme to a love ballad is beyond me, but Salvant pulls it of with ease.

The title track follows and has the feel of a blues tune in the form of a spiritual. Then immediately a classic pop ditty that would right at home as a novelty song in in a broadway show. Until it goes outside. Then back.

I think the thing that draws me to Ghost Song is it’s traditional roots and modern interpretation. Yes, this is classic vocal jazz by a brilliant artist. It also has hooks to thoroughly modern performance and treatment. So much so that I stopped the car to listen the first time I heard it. Please take a listen.