Quick Hit

Cassandra Wilson

November 06, 2008|By Rashod D. Ollison

Perhaps the most daring jazz vocalist of her generation, Cassandra Wilson often pushes her music in thrilling, richly evocative directions. The dark and loamy feel of the blues usually anchors her sound. Be it a Hank Williams ballad, a pop ditty by the Monkees or an introspective self-penned tune, Wilson adds sensuous, haunting textures and dimensions to any song.

On Loverly, her latest CD released in June, the Grammy winner revisits the American Songbook. Excluding Rendezvous, her 1997 duet album with pianist Jacky Terrasson, Loverly is Wilson's first exploration of standards as a leader in 20 years. The Mississippi native, 53, will perform cuts from the new CD at Washington's Warner Theatre on Saturday night.

The last time you did standards under your own name was Blue Skies from '88. Why did you decide to revisit the standards now?

It was suggested by [Blue Note Records label head] Bruce Lundvall. It's always fun to revisit the standards and get your bearings in an older context.

What were you able to bring to the standards that you didn't have 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago?

There's more experience, more of a comprehension of form and how to break out of the form - musically, being able to take certain kinds of chances that I wouldn't have thought of 20 years ago.

There's a strong sense of groove throughout the new album. The rhythms are such a strong pulse this time. Was that intentional?

It all just came together that way. I did some work with percussionist Lekan Babalola, and we talked about giving an African underpinning to the material. The musician locked in so well, and the grooves flowed effortlessly. I have to give credit to the musicians for creating arrangements on the spot. That's the most fun.

I understand you all recorded in a house in your hometown, Jackson, Miss. What was the atmosphere like?

We had some good food. Fried catfish! Catfish makes you play good. You can quote me on that.

You do the cooking?

I sent out. I couldn't have done all that: cooked, produced and did arrangements with the musicians. We have such wonderful restaurants in Jackson. It's hard to find bad food.

Your music always evokes different styles and sounds. Do you ever feel locked in by the jazz tag?

Oh, no. Jazz is much more than just a period piece. It's about having a fertile imagination and being intellectually curious and musically curious. On this project, there was such a connection to African rhythms. It's a sudden recognition that we have a tradition that hasn't been broken. We can put it back together again. The objective is to have a living music.

Rashod D. Ollison

if you go

Cassandra Wilson performs at 8 p.m. Saturday at Warner Theatre, 13th Street (between E and F streets) Northwest, Washington. Tickets are $40-$58. Call 410-547-7328 or go to ticketmaster.com.

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