Singer Cecile McLorin Salvant dazzled Jazz Alley Wednesday, then hit the Portland Jazz Festival this past weekend. Portland, on the other hand, got first dibs on veteran Seattle trombonist Julian Priester — in bassist Buster Williams’ band Something More, which hits Jazz Alley Tuesday.
But never mind the timing, Portland got the best deal: Salvant and Williams shared a double bill at the Newmark Theatre there Saturday.
If you missed Salvant this time, make sure you don’t make that mistake again. At 24, she is easily the most thrilling and formidable new singer in jazz. Imagine the elastic time feel and smoky atmospherics of Betty Carter; the huge hoot of Sarah Vaughan’s basement range; the literate storytelling of Karrin Allyson; and an archivist’s curiosity about cool, unknown songs — and that’s just a catalog. Salvant adds up to far more than the sum of her individual parts.
In a set that differed significantly from her Seattle show, Salvant, whose smart stage signature includes spectacles with thick white frames, embossed the lyrics of “It Ain’t Necessarily So” so craftily that they sounded brand new. Remarkably, she also made the glacially slow lament “He’s Gone Again” her own, despite its association with Shirley Horn.
But her piece de resistance was the 1920s Clarence Williams classic, “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate,” which yanked the flapper era right into the present.
Williams followed with an all-star band featuring three members of Herbie Hancock’s fondly remembered band that made the album “Mwandishi”: Williams, Priester and celebrated reed man Bennie Maupin.
This was some beefy, soulful, resonant jazz, with rhythmic elbow room and a dark fire crackling underneath, thanks to the rock solid hookup of Williams with drummer Cindy Blackman Santana and pianist George Colligan.
Colligan rattled the rafters on a metrically rejiggered version of Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy,” and the 78-year-old Priester, though his best playing days are probably behind him, offered a solo of grace and dignity on the closing ballad, “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was.”
The group plays Jazz Alley Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 25-26.
One act in Portland that won’t make a Seattle date was a rare pairing of hipster pianist-singer-songwriters Bob Dorough and Dave Frishberg, most famous for their composing collaboration on the classic sendup “I’m Hip.”
Sadly, however, Frishberg, 80, who lives in Portland, came down with a severe case of nerves, forgetting whole swatches of his tunes.
“I’m sorry, I’m just drawing a complete blank,” he said, slumping disconsolately on the piano bench, clearly upset with himself.
Dorough covered marvelously, though, and the home team was on Frishberg’s side.
Festival managing director Don Lucoff said Monday Frishberg said he felt “fine” the next day and the pianist discounted fears he had suffered anything more serious than anxiety.
The weekend ended on a happier note as jazz elder Jack DeJohnette, on drums, matched wits with Portland bass/vocal tyro Esperanza Spalding in a sparkling, sinuous quartet featuring saxophonist Joe Lovano and pianist Leo Genovese.
Portland Jazz Festival
The festival continues at various Portland venues through Sunday, March 2, with shows by Tord Gustavsen, Grace Kelly, Rebecca Kilgore, Helen Sung, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, James Carter, Bobby Watson and others; free-$105, with some 10 percent discounts available to festival members (http://portlandjazzfestival.org or 503-228-5299).