Cécile McLorin Salvant's "Mélusine," Part 2: The Vinyl Edition
The best living jazz singer's new French album sounds better still on LP
In March, I wrote a rave review of Cécile McLorin Salvant’s "Mélusine", her second release on Nonesuch and the most unusual album that she (or any other singer on a major label) has ever produced: a series of songs adapted to a 14th-century fairy tale about a half-woman/half-dragon and the revenge she wreaks on a man who looks where he shouldn’t. Some of the songs were written centuries ago; others were Broadway showtunes, vaudeville ditties, or Salvant originals. All are gorgeously arranged and gorgeously sung, most of them in French. (Salvant grew up in a bilingual household.) The CD was also very well recorded, most of it on analog tape. I noted in my review that a vinyl LP was scheduled to come out in May and that I would write a brief follow-up when it did.
That day has arrived. Hence this dispatch.
For more on the music, here’s a link to my original review. As for the comparative sonics of CD vs. LP, you might not be surprised, the LP sounds better but not by a whole lot. On the simpler tracks, those with just vocal and one other instrument (say, piano or hand-held percussion), the difference is slight: the LP supplies a little more detail, dimension, and air. On those where more players enter the soundstage, the difference is more dramatic. For instance, on the CD, when the 2nd track, “La Route Enchantee,” breaks into a samba, the drumkit is a flat mass; the basic beat is prominent, but the rest is recessed. On the LP, you hear all the kit’s elements distinctly and equally; you catch all the polyrhythms; it’s livelier, more danceable. Throughout, on the CD, the bass goes a bit deeper, but it’s also a bit boomy; on the LP, it’s deep enough, and you hear, much more clearly, the volume of the wood and the variations of pizzicato. On the tracks where Wheedie Braimah slaps the djembe, you hear a fuller range of tonal colors and dynamic shadings.
Again, the differences aren’t night from day. I rated the CD 9 for sound, and I stand by that. But the LP holds enough of an edge to warrant a 10.
A note about the format. According to John Davis, most of the tracks--the ones he or Andy Taub engineered--were recorded in analog. Davis then transferred them to digital files, for easier editing. Then he mixed all the tracks in analog. Then they were mastered at 96/24 digital both for the CD and the LP. (So how would SPARS classify that: ADADA?
Finally, there is one problem with the LP packaging: unlike the CD, it does not contain a lyric sheet or booklet. I’m not sure why. I doubt that most vinyl-philes are fluent in French; true, some of them may care about only sound quality, not so much what a singer is saying, but I suspect many care about both. In any case, good news: you can download the lyrics on genius.com and follow along. Better news: Salvant has created her own deluxe booklet, with French lyrics, authoritative translations, and original artwork. It's available on her website