By: Dennis Cook
Unquestionably, a voice for the ages – smoked honey that elevates the language that passes her succulent lips, a moistening and a kiss for words one feels the smack of – but Cassandra Wilson is also one of the most fearless, intuitive and artful interpreters jazz has ever known. However, her reach has often gone to areas well outside the jazz standards, Great American Songbook stuff that populates most of her chosen field. While other singers take up residence inside Harold Arlen and Gershwin, Wilson has willfully (and brilliantly) found inspiration in Robert Johnson, Miles Davis and Bob Dylan, as well as her own creative pen. This is what makes her embrace of codified chestnuts like "'Til There Was You,""Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most" and "The Very Thought of You" on Loverly (released June 10 on Blue Note) so quietly delightful. Here she seems to say, with a wink, "Yeah, I could have gone the traditional route and I'd have spanked y'all if I had."
However, don't expect some subdued cocktail combo backing. As ever, Wilson has gathered a diverse, seductive group of players to realize her vision. Marvin Sewell's electric and acoustic guitars are up front but he's matched nicely by Jason Moran's gorgeous, rolling piano and the rhythm section of Herlin Riley (drums), Lekan Babalola (percussion) and bassist Lonnie Plaxico (and the great Reginald Veal on acoustic upright bass on "The Very Thought of You"). The group locks into a pocket on every cut, lending Latinismo charm to "Black Orpheus" and "Gone With The Wind" and stirring the ghosts of the mindblowing Ellington-Mingus-Roach Money Jungle sessions on "Caravan." Simply put, this band cooks on all burners, forgoing flash for feel throughout, serving the singer but also putting their own stamp on the material. Loverly, the title taken from the My Fair Lady gem "Wouldn't It Be Loverly, " will make you long to hear this lineup in concert. Chemistry can't be manufactured and these players surely have it.
Cassandra Wilson has made a lot of interesting records over the years but she may have never made one so readily appealing, so ready to purr under our attentions. There's so much here to seduce – Sewell's evocation of vintage George Benson on "'Til There Was You" the skewed, captivating pulse of their arrangement of "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most" or the downright funk-ay interpretation of "St. James Infirmary" as just three examples of many. Wilson has often challenged listeners to go beyond their comfort zones, especially in her early M-Base Collective days, so it's a nifty surprise that over 20 years into her career she offers us such sweetness as this.
JamBase | Birdland
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