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Cassandra Wilson, Ronnie Scott's | reviews, news & interviews

Cassandra Wilson, Ronnie Scott's

Cassandra Wilson, Ronnie Scott's

Exceptional storytelling gifts from the Grammy-winning artist

A bombast-free zone: Cassandra Wilson

The great jazz singers are also the great storytellers. Last night, listening to Cassandra Wilson sing “Wichita Lineman”, that single, devastating couplet - "And I need you more than want you/And I want you for all time" - conjured up an individual's entire life story. Seamlessly traversing genres in fresh and creative ways, performing a set that juxtaposed Cesária Évora's “Angola” with a completely impromptu “A Foggy Day”, the Jackson, Mississippi vocalist, musician, songwriter and producer confirmed her own compelling storytelling gift.

When Wilson took to the stage after a scene-setting instrumental version of Stevie Wonder's “Secret Life of Plants”, it was fitting that the opening song, “Children of the Night”, came from her landmark album Blue Light 'Til Dawn (1983). Wilson's first album for Blue Note, this hugely influential recording showed the way for an entire generation of jazz singers wanting to look beyond the Great American Songbook.

Hearing Wilson's inspired arrangement of 'Last Train to Clarksville' in pin-drop silence was a huge treat. By turns sensuous and seductive, this was The Monkees for grown ups

Following this up with the dramatic tableaux of “No More Blues”, a kind of call to action from her most recent album, last year's Another Country, Wilson then continued her long-standing love affair with the music of Brazil in a most beautiful, understated intepretation of “Lembra de Mim” (“Remember Me”) by the MPB songsmith Ivan Lins. That she feels entirely at home in the music's singular rhythms should come as no surprise, given her spell as lead singer of the Brazilian-oriented band, Jasmine. Taken from her 1996 album New Moon Daughter (for which she won one of her two Grammys), hearing Wilson's inspired arrangement of “Last Train to Clarksville” in the pin-drop silence of Ronnie's was a huge treat. By turns sensuous and seductive, this was The Monkees for grown ups.

Great singers deserve a great band, and Wilson's was super fine. Bassist Lonnie Plaxico has performed and recorded with the singer since their Brooklyn M-Base days in the 1980s, playing on Wilson's debut as leader, Point of View (1986). His solo introduction to “No More Blues” had you pinned to your seat, carving out huge melodic slabs in one continuous stream of invention. Having performed on Blue Light 'Til Dawn (“Children of the Night” one of five songs he arranged on the album), acoustic guitarist Brandon Ross also goes way back with Wilson. Everything Ross did was impeccably paced and placed, and effortlessly dovetailed with the piano.

Doubling on reed organ, pianist Jon Cowherd taking the harmonies of “No More Blues” for a walk on the outside was one of the evening's highlights, especially so given his unassuming demeanour. Likewise John Davis, whose drumming was so apposite, unshowy and in the pocket that his polyrhythmic feature at the end of “Angola” seemed all the more extraordinary. Last but not least, harmonica player and MD, Grégoire Maret, supplied some fleet-fingered contrapuntal detail, either wrapping itself around or responding to the vocal line as well as peeling off one exquisite solo after another.

The encore, Cyndi Lauper's “Time After Time”, came from her exceptional Miles Davis tribute, Travelling Miles (1999) – Davis being one of the key figures in Wilson's musical make-up. Like the evening as a whole, it exuded an incredibly intimate atmosphere, one of a quiet transformational power.

Watch Cassandra Wilson perform “No More Blues”

The evening exuded an incredibly intimate atmosphere, one of a quiet transformational power


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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