TD Toronto JazzFest 2019: Cécile McLorin Salvant & Sullivan Fortner

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Cécile McLorin Salvant – Photo credit: Atael Weissman

TD Toronto Jazz Festival 2019: Cécile McLorin Salvant and Sullivan Fortner with opening act the Ethan Ardelli Quartet
The Royal Conservatory, Koerner Hall

Cinderella Magic

Thursday, June 27th, a magical evening, a musical delight. As we approached the end of the Toronto Jazz Festival, day seven, I found myself in possession of some of the hottest tickets in town. Featuring a jazz quartet made up of some of my favourite musicians and one of the top grammy award winning jazz vocalists on the scene.

The Ethan Ardelli Quartet made up of Canadian musicians, were the perfect opening act for Cécile McLorin Salvant. The group made up of the leader, Ardelli on drums, Devon Henderson on acoustic bass, Chris Donnelly on piano and Luis Deniz playing alto saxophone, set the stage for an intimate concert that featured a tone of post bop, combined with free flowing modern jazz. The Quartet has released one recording to date, the 2018 CD entitled The Island of Form.

The group under the direction of Ardelli would open up strong with flowing melodic tunes that blended one song into the next. In near hypnotic fashion the Quartet entertained the packed house with solid musicianship.

Seemingly in no time at all, Ardelli was thanking the audience for their attention and hoping everybody enjoyed the rest of the show. The last song “View From Goldaway” a composition, as Ardelli explained, that had as its inspiration, a time he recently spent on the faculty of the University of Manitoba. The song was deep, intricate and had dark overtones with Deniz at his most melodic on saxophone. Ardelli, swinging in his free form rhythmic fashion and Henderson holding down the bottom end with dynamism, while Donnelly accentuated with tasteful runs and fills. The group finished a satisfying and delightful set.

A short intermission as the Quartets equipment is removed and the stage is set to welcome the piano and vocal duet of Cécile McLorin Salvant and Sullivan Fortner. Sullivan Fortner took out his cell phone and started to video the audience, as he took his place at the piano with a big smile. Salvant glided across the stage, front and centre, she launched into a confident and commanding vocal serenade, “Everything I’ve Got”,  “Bread & Gravy”, “I’m All Smiles” and “You’re My Thrill”.

Salvant has a manner of phrasing that sets her apart from most vocalists. Her voice is a beautiful instrument and she uses it in a way that is, to me, quite reminiscent of a trumpet, with trills and lengthy runs, super articulation and shifts in tone and range as a musical palette of glorious tones.

Sullivan Fortner played off of Salvant with perfection, setting up the introductions and providing the grace notes to allow for a full sound with enchanting interludes. He is a virtuosic pianist and could command the attention of the audience in a solo performance. However when in duet mode the simpatico between singer and pianist is purely divine.

A little chat with the audience, a touch of humour and getting to know one another, almost a dinner theatre atmosphere and then back to some singing with a Bessie Smith feature,  “Nobody In Town” followed by “Outside of That”. Salvant displays a deep emotion in her songs and she has a sense of humour that is present within the song and displayed by her interplay between Fortner and the audience.

Salvant performed “Sam Jones Blues” and then had a discussion on how, “Bessie Smith lived those blue tunes and just to clear that last one up, there’s this.” She explained, proceeding to perform, “Devil May Care” perhaps a more modern take on life from the singers perspective.

Followed by the beautiful “Midnight Sun” and a Cinderella song from the perspective of the step sister “Stepsisters Lament”. Showing of her bilingual skill she performed a French tune, sounding very much like a cross between  Edith Piaf and Nina Simone. She treated the audience to an original song entitled, “Ghost Song” an R&B tune, heavy on the blues with a tinge of country.

And with that the show was over, a bow and a wave to the audience and they were gone, but not for too long.  The appreciative audience brought the duo back to the stage three times. They would perform a medley of songs on their first encore appearance,  a short song on the second and culminating with a Stevie Wonder song, “Visions” just fantastic. The crowd applauded with delight. For me this was a truly magical evening.

Photos by Atael Weissman

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