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Cassandra Wilson: Silver Pony

Lewis J Whittington By

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Vocalist Cassandra Wilson is known for her genre bending interpretations of jazz and pop standards, though Silver Pony represents a bit of a departure. The liner notes explain that she worked on it during a personal crisis and also was returning to her musical roots. There are studio tracks recorded in New Orleans, mixed with live tracks from Spain, with many of the same musicians.

Silver Pony starts with a staccato, pulsing arrangement of "Lover Come Back to Me," recorded at a concert in Granada, with a less arch, earthier approach, that continues throughout the disc. No one but Wilson could give a completely revamped drama to a warhorse like "Went Down to St. James Infirmary," a track hooked on guitarist Marvin Sewell's wicked shots, behind a vocal delivery from Wilson that swirls, whispers, purrs and draws blood out of a corpse.

"A Night in Seville" is Wilson's simmering electronica jam, her arrangement alluding to Dizzy Gillespie's "Night in Tunisia," but melting into "Beneath the Silver Moon," co-written with her band members; conjuring up a sultry, dreamy scene with her lilting contralto completely interlocked with Ravi Coltrane's blue-fire sax line, this is vintage Wilson.

Sewell's opening on Charlie Patton's "Saddle Up My Pony" brings a rowdy and heartfelt vocal, with everyone telling a great musical story. On Bernard Roth's blues classic, "Forty Days and Forty Nights"—originally made famous by Muddy Waters—Sewell, bassist Reginald Veal and pianist Jon Batiste distil down off Wilson's torchy vocal. In contrast, Wilson gives Stevie Wonders ballad, "If it's Magic," a straightforward reading, decorating it quietly with flamenco guitar. Later, the quiet storm ambience continues with The Beatles' lullaby, "Blackbird," while Wilson and John Legend demonstrate terrific chemistry on "Watch the Sunrise."

Wilson is also stellar on a live cut of of Bonfá and Sigman's pivotal basso nova classic, "A Day in the Life of a Fool." Sewell's trippy steel guitar and percussionist Lekan Babalola's bongo cool frames Wilson's intimate, haunted vocal.

Silver Pony's very tight, mixed program finds jazz-blues chanteuse Cassandra Wilson in top form.

Track Listing: Lover Come Back To Me; Went Down to St. James Infirmary; A Night in Seville; Beneath A Silver Moon; Saddle Up My Pony; If It's Magic; Forty Days and Forty Nights; Silver Moon; A Day in the Life of a Fool; Blackbird; Watch the Sunrise.

Personnel: Marvin Sewell: guitars; Reginald Veal: bass; Herlin Riley: drums; Jonathan Batiste: keyboards; Lekan Babalola: percussion; Ravi Coltrane: tenor sax; Helen Gillet: cello; Luke Laird: acoustic guitar; Brandon Ross: acoustic guitar.

Title: Silver Pony | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

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