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The next great jazz singer: From Miami by way of Alice in Chains

Jazz has always been a place of glorious cultural mashups, where dynamic demographics inspire, where tradition and innovation coalesce, where a Miami vocalist drawing comparisons to Sarah Vaughan can, without apology, express her love for grunge hellions Alice in Chains.

Cécile McLorin Salvant returns to her hometown for a performance on Friday, Dec. 7, at the peak of a remarkable career that, at age 29, is still just beginning.

Salvant’s second album, 2014’s “WomanChild” (Mack Avenue Records) was nominated for a Grammy Award, and her third and fourth albums, “For One to Love” and “Dreams and Daggers,” each won a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album.

Over the past several years, she has sold out multiple headlining performances at New York’s jazz mecca, the Village Vanguard, and toured with Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, as critics around the world have genuflected.

The New York Times drew a line from Salvant back to the Big Three of female jazz vocalists — Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. A few weeks ago Salvant was named to Forbes magazine’s 2019 30 Under 30 list of musicians, songwriters and industry influencers who are “topping charts and shifting culture.”

“You get a singer like this once in a generation or two,” Marsalis said in a 2017 New Yorker magazine profile of Salvant.

The women of Artemis

On Friday, Dec. 7, Miami’s Arsht Center will continue the 11th season of its acclaimed Jazz Roots series with a performance by Artemis, the seven-woman international jazz supergoup that includes Salvant, pianist and musical director Renee Rosnes, clarinetist Anat Cohen, tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, bassist Noriko Ueda and drummer Allison Miller.

Speaking from her apartment in New York, Salvant says she is looking forward to the physical setting of the performance — in front of family and friends in her hometown — but also the musical surroundings provided by the women in the band.

Artemis began as a unique one-off union of female bandleaders, but became something more, Salvant says.

“Everybody in the band is very different, and we each have our own bands. But we made a conscious choice that we wanted to keep playing with each other, and so it no longer became a gender thing. It became a music thing,” she says.

“For me it’s like a conversation, you know? We bring different things out of each other. There’s a lot of communication onstage, so there’s a spontaneity. We really listen to each other, so every show is different. Or should be different,” Salvant says, laughing.

The daughter of a Haitian physician and a French Guadeloupean mother (founder of the French American School in Miami), Salvant says she was “really lucky” to grow up being formed by her mother’s eclectic taste for folk and classical music from Africa, South American and the Caribbean. This was a contrast from her own playlist.

“I listened to a lot of grunge, R&B, punk, pop hits of the day,” she says. “I had a moment where I was really, really into Alice in Chains.”

Salvant found her jazz voice after moving to Aix-en-Provence, France, to study law in 2007, winning the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition three years later.

A new album

In October, Salvant released her fifth album, “The Window,” a collaboration with pianist Sulivan Fortner featuring a figurative painting by Salvant on the cover. A collection that has attracted more critical praise and talk of another Grammy nomination, “The Window” is another showcase for Salvant’s special ability to take a familiar song to a new place.

Among the most memorable cuts is her moody take on the “West Side Story” classic “Somewhere,” turning the uplifting paean to immigrant aspiration into a molasses-smooth song of melancholy and cynicism. It was recorded live at the Village Vanguard.

“It’s a song of blind hope of these two young lovers. They sing this song in a leap-of-faith moment, ‘There’s a place for us somewhere,’ but we all know what happens to them,” she says. “There’s something so beautiful and light about it, but also something so dark and ominous about that song. I love that dichotomy and playing with those ideas.”

The album opens with a sublime take on Stevie Wonder’s “Visions,” from the classic 1973 album “Innervisions,” another song written from the point of view of a marginalized figure wondering if he has arrived in “the milk and honey land … where hate's a dream and love forever stands.”

“That is one of my absolute favorite songs. There is that aspirational quality, like he’s almost singing and writing from the ‘milk and honey land,’ that place where we all want to be, and yet we know that’s not reality,” Salvant says, describing herself as “a bit of a pessimist.”

“What I really find fascinating is that it’s a song written by a blind man and yet there are images of vision and sight and leaves changing color, things he doesn’t have access to in the way that we who have vision actually do,” she says. “When he sings, ‘I’m not one who make believes, I know that leaves are green,’ there’s something so moving and sad and insane and absurd about that.”

The Jazz Roots series continues at the Arsht Center in monthly installments through April. Other performances: the Joshua Redman Quartet (Jan. 18); “Jazz in the Key of Ellison,” with Will Downing, Nona Hendryx, Nicholas Payton, Quiana Lynell and the Andy Faber Jazz Orchestra, inspired by the Ralph Ellison novel “Invisible Man” (Feb. 8); “Reflect + Respond = Now,” featuring Christian Scott, Terrace Martin, Derrick Hodge, Justin Tyson, Taylor McFerrin and Robert Glasper (March 8); “From Brazil With Love,” a concert by Sergio Mendes (April 12).

Artemis performs 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. The Emmet Cohen Trio will open the evening. Tickets cost $45-$125. Call 305-949-6722, or visit ArshtCenter.org.

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