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Cassandra Wilson: Loverly

Suzanne Lorge By

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When Cassandra Wilson played New York's Blue Note Jun. 9th, she let her band jam a long time before she stepped into the heavy mix of groove and musical jest among the instrumentalists. The room was sweltering because of the day's heat and the seemingly absent air conditioning, but Wilson never broke a sweat. Wilson always stands at the center of the musical tempest (hot syncopation, cool blues, or breezy harmonization) as it swirls around her and on her new CD—Loverly, released at the club that night—the musical storm is both a step back (it's a standards album) and a step forward (you never heard them like this before).

On the CD Wilson uses African percussionist Lekan Babalola to recall the rhythmic roots of jazz—his layered playing alongside that of drummer Herlin Riley, who matches Babalola in focus and intensity, adds an element of unpredictability to what have come to be the readily anticipated melodic and harmonic turns of the traditional pop repertoire. But it is Wilson's sonorous voice that tethers each tune in the story of the lyrics; thus the polyrhythmic rendition of "Caravan," her opener at the Blue Note, both musically and lyrically evokes images of hot, sandy places where romance is the oasis; by contrast, "The Very Thought Of You," accompanied by only Reginald Veal in a one-off performance on bass while Wilson walked nonchalantly about the room in the home where the CD was recorded, reveals the simple, everyday musings of a more settled love. (Wilson performed this tune as her eleventh-hour number at the Blue Note gig and saxophonist Ezra Brown sat in—just one of the many perks of live performance.)

Wilson's long-time collaborators, bassist Lonnie Plaxico and guitarist Marvin Sewell, appear on the disc along with pianist Jason Moran and backup singer Rhonda Richmond. But not all of the players on the CD could make the Blue Note gig, so Wilson brought in a couple of hyper-talented young instrumentalists to round out the band: drummer EJ Strickland and pianist Jonathan Batiste.

And what a joy it must be to play with Cassandra Wilson. It certainly is a joy to listen. Beyond merely loverly, this CD is one for the collection.

Track Listing: Lover Come Back To Me; Black Orpheus; Wouldn't It Be Loverly; Gone With The Wind; Caravan; 'Til There Was You; Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most; Arere; St. James Infirmary; Dust My Broom; The Very Thought Of You; A Sleepin' Bee.

Personnel: Cassandra Wilson: vocals; Jason Moran: piano (1-6, 8-10, 12); Marvin Sewell: guitar (1-10, 12); Lonnie Plaxico: acoustic bass (1-6, 8-10, 12); Reginald Veal: acoustic bass (11); Herlin Riley: drums (1-6, 8-10, 12); Lekan Babalola: percussion (1, 2, 4-6, 8-10); Rhonda Richmond: background vocals (8); Nicholas Payton: trumpet (1).

Title: Loverly | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

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