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Take Five: Gearing Up For the Newport Jazz Festival, with Cécile, Rhiannon and More

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Cecile McLorin Salvant at South Florida Jazz in 2015

Cécile McLorin Salvant

If you’ve been paying attention to the state of jazz singing, you no longer need an introduction to Cécile McLorin Salvant. She’s not only the most electrifying talent of her generation but also a breakout star, approaching a kind of celebrity. So it’s reassuring to know that her aesthetic compass hasn’t shifted.

Listen to her new single, a version of the 1930s standard “You’re My Thrill,” recorded with her trio and the Catalyst Quartet.


This is the lead single from Salvant’s third album, Dreams and Daggers, due out on Mack Avenue on Sept. 29. Part of the album inhabits this satiny atmosphere; another part will be looser and drier, consisting of material recorded during Salvant’s debut at the Village Vanguard last fall. Salvant will be back at the Vanguard next month, but first she plays Newport, on Friday afternoon.

Rhiannon Giddens

One of the finest albums released so far this year, in any genre, is Freedom Highway, by Rhiannon Giddens. A stirring reflection on African-American narrative song traditions, stretching back to the plantation era, it’s also a vibrant portrait of resilience. Giddens — an arresting singer, banjoist and fiddler, and a former member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops — approaches these songs with the deepest respect, and imbues them with a bustling inner life. She recently discussed her music with NPR Music’s Ann Powers on World Cafe Nashville, and performed a handful of songs with her band, including “At the Purchaser's Option,” a tragic yet determined slave song, and “The Love We Almost Had,” shot through with wistful yearning.

Giddens performs twice at the festival: on a Friday night concert at the Newport Casino (sharing a bill with Trombone Shorty), and at Fort Adams State Park on Saturday afternoon.

Flying Toward the Sound: For Geri, With Love

One group I’d been looking forward to hearing at Newport this year was the ACS Trio, featuring pianist Geri Allen, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding. Then came the shocking tragedy of Allen’s death last month. Rather than cancel the booking, the festival has turned it into a tribute, with Spalding and Carrington joined by three pianists: Christian Sands, Jason Moran and Vijay Iyer, who recently noted: “Geri Allen is one of my greatest musical heroes, and I've been obsessed with and influenced by her music for 30 years.” Each pianist will bring his own style to the tribute; here is a taste of Allen with the ACS Trio, from Jazz in Marciac, performing “Unconditional Love.”


Henry Threadgill’s Zooid

It’s never a bad time to tune in to Henry Threadgill’s frequency, but the present moment feels especially compelling. Threadgill — the indomitably creative multireedist, composer and bandleader — won a Pulitzer Prize for Music last year, and has only kept on pushing since. (Last month he stood in for his friend Ornette Coleman during a concert screening of Naked Lunch, and his taut, riveting cry gave me chills.) Threadgill will appear at Newport with his flagship band, Zooid. For a recent taste of the band in action, consult this version of “I Never,” recorded live by Q2 Music, for Meet the Composer, at the Village Vanguard last October.

Uri Caine Trio

Pianist and composer Uri Caine has done memorable work in solo, duo and large-group formats, but he’s never more dangerous than when he’s leading a trio. The trio that he’ll bring to Newport is a working unit with Mark Helias on bass and Clarence Penn on drums, equally adept at barreling down the highway or foraging through the woods. There hasn’t been nearly enough documentation of this band, but you can hear a full gig from last October, courtesy of Bimhuis Radio. It’s probably the best representation of the what Caine and his partners will sound like at Newport on Saturday afternoon. (Just be sure to start the clip at 32:10.) 

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, Nate Chinen is editorial director at WBGO and a regular contributor to NPR Music.