A brilliantly realized follow-up to her Grammy-nominated 2013 effort, WomanChild, vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant's third album, 2015's For One to Love, is at its core a small-group jazz album featuring a thoughtfully curated set of standards and originals. However, with Salvant at the mike, backed here with nuanced skill by pianist Aaron Diehl, bassist Paul Sikivie, and drummer Lawrence Leathers, it's also a series of virtuoso performances, each one seemingly more engaging and emotionally resonant than the last. Conceptually centered around notions of romantic love -- from conflicted, melancholic expressions to more bawdy, sensual ones -- the album finds Salvant further demonstrating the poetic compositional skills and feminist themes that helped make WomanChild so much more than just a solid album from an accomplished jazz vocalist. However, Salvant's feminism here, while finely articulated, isn't explicit. It lies more subtly in the context of her choices. Her exuberant reading of the swing-era "Growlin' Dan," a song by Blanche Calloway, Cab's lesser-known older sister and mentor, seems to symbolize Salvant's distinctly female point of view. The same might be said of her sardonically faithful rendition of Burt Bacharach's infamously misogynistic "Wives and Lovers" or her playful take on the Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers standard "Stepsisters' Lament," in which she coyly asks "Oh, why would a fella want a girl like her?/A girl who's so unusual/Why can't a fella ever once prefer a usual girl like me?" Of course, not to split hairs, but there isn't really anything usual about Salvant. A true sculptor of song, she is the kind of singer who exerts perfect control over everything she sings, molding each musical moment at will. Perhaps it's not surprising, then, to find out that she also painted the image on the cover of For One to Love, a woman's face, Picasso askew, crying from happiness or heartbreak. It's this kind of emotional dichotomy that Salvant, with her malleable talent, is so adept at expressing. She's able to push her voice to the edge of control, but that breaking point is most likely a product of her own virtuosic illusion -- since she never crosses it. As on the poignant "Left Over," in which she sings about an unrequited love, her voice soars into a wobbly falsetto one second, and pulls back into a throaty coo the next, whispering that "his hands on mine are all I know of love, of love." This is a theatrical move, an actor's stage approach to singing in character, only it's Salvant's own composition and it breaks your heart. Salvant's originals are all lyrical, sad, and personal, revealing achingly raw emotions. On tunes like "Underling," we're left to ponder whether the song is about her ruinous devotion to a lover or her painful dedication to her creative muse. Regardless, the results are heartbreaking and beautiful.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar