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Cassandra Wilson – Loverly

August 5, 2008

By Alonzo Weston, St. Joseph News-Press, Mo.

Aug. 5–TITLE: “Loverly” (Blue Note Records)

ARTIST: Cassandra Wilson

STARS: 4 1/2 Out of 5 Stars

SOUNDS LIKE: American songbook standards filtered through Wilson’s deep husky vocals and sparse instrumentation.

Cassandra Wilson is what I want a female jazz vocalist to sound like. Her deep, husky voice just seems right for a jazz chanteuse doing a late night set in a smoky nightclub.

I also like the fact that Wilson never takes the usual approach to jazz singing. She sings more like a jazz trumpeter than a vocalist in the way she interprets the emotion and feeling in the music. She uses lyrics like musical notes, creating a palette of texture and color.

And Wilson is one of the few jazz singers who’s not afraid to cross genres. In her work with pop producer T-Bone Burnett and other eclectic producers and musicians, she’s use everything from country, blues, folk and old spirituals to get her musical point across.

But on “Loverly” Wilson plays it close to the traditional jazz bone. She puts her smoky, vocal magic to 12 American songbook standards such as Oscar Hammerstein’s “Lover Come Back to Me” and Luiz Bonfa’s “A Day In The Life Of A Fool” and with tantalizing results.

Her band, guitarist Marvin Sewell, bassists Reggie Veal and Lonnie Plaxico, drummer Herlin Riley, and pianist Jason Moran help make it all work by taking minimalist approach to providing accompaniment. They’re more dedicated to creating a total mood rather than exploring the range of their chops. The result is similar to the understated, elegant approach that Herbie Hancock took on his Grammy winning “River: The Joni Letters.”

“I wanted to work with spare arrangements this time,” Wilson said from a press release. “And I decided to dig back into standards with a small compact group of musicians. I don’t record the typical jazz standards a lot, but I love them and that’s how I honed my craft.”

I spite of this traditional approach, Wilson’s vocal creativity adds new life to these old songs. And this is perhaps why it’s the best vocal jazz CD I’ve heard in a long time.

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