Cassandra Wilson kills you softly with her songs. The brilliant subtlety of Wilson's art is nowhere more apparent than in her unmistakable voice -- presumably made of suede. It is a restless voice, evoking at once Betty Carter and Bob Dylan, flawlessly encompassing all the jazzy tenderness of the former and the understated urgency of the latter. On March 14, Wilson will bring her unique sound to 32 Bleu for two evening performances.
Named Time magazine's 2001 pick for America's Best Singer, in addition to garnering over a dozen albums' worth of critical acclaim and a Grammy for her 1996 release New Moon Daughter, Wilson is more than ever approaching legendary status in the jazz community. And it is her newest album, last year's Glamoured, that pushes Wilson in her most innovative and stylistically ambiguous directions yet.
Leaving behind the traditional jazz standards of her early career, Glamoured puts all the Nina Simone comparisons to rest and firmly establishes Wilson as a legendary jazz voice in her own right. From a Gaelic word meaning "to be whisked away," Glamoured revels in the subtle intensity of Wilson's musical and lyrical delivery.
"It's like being in a daydream, those split seconds when you're transfixed and your eyes don't move and you have to shake yourself out of it," Wilson has said describing the album, which often meshes folk, jazz, blues, and Caribbean music influences into a single song. It is Wilson's voice that holds the entire project together and solidifies the album as her best work yet. Whether it's the calculated extemporaneity of Wilson's vocal delivery in "Throw it Away," or the bluesy melancholy of "Sleight of Time," Wilson is unfettered by stylistic constraints, moving easily and often from a smoky whisper to a sultry croon.
Indeed, it has always been Wilson's musical versatility that separated her from an entire generation of likeminded jazz divas-in-waiting. Born in Jackson, Miss., in 1955, Wilson was playing both guitar and piano by the time she was 10, and in her teens, she began to discover her singing voice in a wide variety of bands.
After moving to New York in 1982, Wilson fell under the tutelage of Dave Holland, a longtime Miles Davis collaborator, and Wilson became a frequent collaborator herself with the M-Base Collective, an experimental avant-jazz outfit led by Steve Coleman. By 1985, Wilson was ready to test the solo waters, and she released her first album, Songbook, to critical acclaim. What followed was a steady ascent to the top of the jazz world and, eventually, a staring role in Wynton Marsalis' Pulitzer Prize-winning jazz-opera, Blood on the Fields, which tells the story of two African slaves forced into captivity in the antebellum South.
It is clear, however, that Wilson is still only beginning to build a legacy that promises to last for years. With an impressive catalog of albums already under her belt, as well as a solo headlining tour in full swing, Wilson is poised for even bigger and better things to come, leaving no doubt that the long road is often the most rewarding.
-- Joe Kuzma capsule Cassandra Wilson
Sunday, March 14
32 Bleu (32 S. Tejon)
Two shows: 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
For more, call 955-5664