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First Play: Cécile McLorin Salvant, Dreams and Daggers

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Holly Gordon

Cécile McLorin Salvant’s ascension cannot be slowed.

WomanChild, the New York-based singer’s first album on Mack Avenue Records and second release overall, was nominated for a 2014 Grammy Award for best jazz vocal album; her next release, For One to Love, took home the 2016 Grammy in the same category.

“You get a singer like this once in a generation or two,” Wynton Marsalis told the New Yorker, adding that while the 28-year-old may not have yet reached her peak, he knows she will. “Could Michael Jordan do all he would do in his third year? No, but you could tell what he was going to do. Cécile is the same way.”

Following up her Grammy win, McLorin Salvant will release her third album on Mack Avenue Records on Sept. 29, called Dreams and Daggers, a double set of discs mainly recorded live with her band over three nights at the Village Vanguard — the venerable Greenwich Village jazz club. A handful of tracks in the collection of 23 were later recorded in studio with a string quartet.

“I wanted there to be contrasts thematically, contrasts in terms of texture and sound, and beyond that, I really didn’t want it to be contrived,” she told Centre Daily Times. “It’s a various perspective album dealing with questions of identity, questions of all these steps of conscious things that happen in a woman’s mind, dealing with love, standards of beauty, fears, pain, fun, laughter — all of that went into the album.”

To listen to Dreams and Daggers’ songs is a little like sitting down to a one-woman play: McLorin Salvant includes interpretations and twists on songs like “Mad About the Boy,” plaintively blurting out the word “mad” during a hushed moment at the four-minute mark (pulling laughter from the audience), and including tongue-in-cheek takes on “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues” and Josephine Baker’s “Si j’étais blanche” (“If I was White). The album’s songs include original compositions, French and vaudeville songs, jazz standards and even some work by Langston Hughes.

“I think it’s important in life but also in art to be able to laugh,” McLorin Salvant told Open Mind host Alexander Heffner. “And you can get a lot of interesting messages across when you say them with a laugh, and when people laugh at them.”

Dreams and Daggers will be released Sept. 29 via Mack Avenue Records. Pre-order it here.