November 20, 2003
There are few sounds in jazz as rich as the voice of Cassandra Wilson. Her sonorous tone was as delectable on Nov. 20 at The Egg in Albany, NY, as the pastries being sold in the lobby. And just as sweet.
On tour supporting her new album, Glamoured, Wilson didn’t carry a traditional jazz group, nor play traditional songs. Most came from her new CD and others from recent recordings, but there were no standards. Instead, Wilson delights in taking songs from other idioms – Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters, Sting – and giving them a personal treatment. It’s all still highly improvisational, because she re-invents the tunes and explores depths not conceived by their authors. She also writes good songs.
She opened with “Children of the Night, “ from Glamoured and enveloped herself in the music, which was propelled by her longtime associate Lonnie Plaxico on bass and the team of Terri Lynne Carrington on the standard trap drum set and the effusive Jeffrey Haynes on a myriad of percussion instruments. From the start, Wilson seemed to walk into the layers of steady driving rhythms and from there, weaved her magic, using the deep tones she can reach that few other women can. Off came the shoes and off went the singer at her improvisational best.
In many bands, percussionists are used to add a different flavor. Not so with Wilson. Haynes is essential to the music and his superb style and touch is a key driving force, aided by the always-stellar Carrington (last seen at The Egg with Herbie Hancock last fall). Plaxico’s resonant bass work cements the rhythm. It seems that guitarist Brandon Ross and Gregiore Maret on harmonica are the coloring, more than instrumental soloists. Both are good players, but Wilson could have given a stunning show with just the rhythm.
She sang blues (Muddy Water’s “Honey Bee”) folk (Dylan’s “Lay Lady, Lay”) and rock (“Last Train to Clarksville” and Sting’s “Fragile”) even country (Patsy’s Cline’s trademark “Crazy,” made oh-so-much better with Wilson’s haunting and teasing treatment) but each was infused with Wilson’s very personal way of storytelling. It’s emotional and adventurous. She mines the depths of feeling, and yet does so with darting, serpentine twists and turns of musical élan. She also exudes a sexiness in her voice that perhaps hasn’t been seen in a jazz singer since Billie Holiday. “If Loving You is Wrong” is prime evidence to her sensual delivery.
Jobim’s “Waters of March” has always carried the cool of bossa nova and the upbeat tempo of Brazil. Wilson did something different. She injected soul with her low, rumbling voice, while still pushing the rhythm. While singers like Dianna Krall may be excellent interpreters of song, Wilson is a creator and re-creator.
If loving her is wrong, you don’t want to be right.