Cecile McLorin Salvant/ Photo by Jean-Pierre Dodel
Trendiness and hits be damned. Sunday night saw two outstanding musical acts in separate performances in downtown Minneapolis: the Mavericks, the veteran Nashville band with Miami roots, and Cecile McLorin Salvant, the raved-about 24-year-old jazz newcomer from Miami of French and Haitian heritage.
In their return to the Pantages Theatre, the Mavericks, the 1990s country band that delivered a first-rate reunion album last year, reasserted what they did last April: that they are one of the greatest dance bands in America. The group earned about four or five standing ovations before the crowd of mostly middle-aged white folks finally stood and danced the night away.
If you’re not familiar with the Mavericks, imagine Roy Orbison & the E Street Band produced by Phil Spector in Texas. In other words, the Mavericks mine various strains of pre-Beatles rock, including rockabilly, swing, Tex-Mex, lounge jazz and vintage pop.
Part of the group’s 25th anniversary tour, Sunday’s 2¼-hour set was similar to last year’s with a few exceptions, including a cool cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “All That Heaven Will Allow” and “La Bamba” (instead of “Guantanamera” and “Twist and Shout”).
Acoustic guitarist Robert Reynolds was missing because of an illness in his family. And frontman Raul Malo, whose vocals were robust and rangy as always, was wearing a big black cowboy hat, a black shirt with red embroidered roses and a big smile.
After the Mavericks, I caught most of Salvant’s late set at the Dakota Jazz Club. It was a most impressive Twin Cities debut.
She performed with confidence, grace and humor – and an abiding respect for her foremothers. In fact, her set crystallized so many of the greats before her, including Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Bessie Smith. And she gave credit to each of them, explaining which singer’s version had introduced her to each song.
Backed by a stellar trio, Salvant showed outstanding technique, control and range. On Smith’s “You Got To Give Me Some,” she glided from a high, girlish voice to a deep, tough-mama tone in the same sentence. She demonstrated an aptitude for theatricality without being hammy or histrionic. But, most importantly, she creatively reshaped familiar songs and made them memorable.
As remarkable as Salvant’s performance was, one might be hard-pressed to recognize her face without those oversized white-frame glasses that have become her brand and perhaps her burden.