Cassandra Wilson | Thalia Hall | Jazz | Chicago Reader
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Cassandra Wilson

Cassandra Wilson

When: Thu., March 5, 8 p.m. 2015
Price: $42-$56
There’s probably no jazz singer of the last three decades who’s cut a more distinctive figure than Cassandra Wilson. She has routinely charted her own idiosyncratic path, both before and after gaining acclaim for her striking 1988 standards album, Blue Skies (JMT). Her most successful and popular work involves a highly personal, intuitive, rustic application of country blues and country twang, a practice she began on her 1992 album, Blue Light ’Til Dawn (Blue Note). Along the way, Wilson has taken other numerous stylistic detours, so it should come as no surprise that on her forthcoming tribute to Billie Holiday, Coming Forth by Day (due out on Sony Legacy on April 7), she doesn’t mimic the sound or approach of the legendary jazz singer. Instead, Wilson cleaves to her own originality just as Lady Day always did. The album was produced by Nick Launay, who’s known best for his work with Nick Cave, and the rhythm section is manned by the Bad Seeds’ Thomas Wylder on drums and Martyn Casey on bass. Roots maven T Bone Burnett and Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs handle the guitar, and the spooky string arrangements come from Van Dyke Parks (Wilson retains some of her regular collaborators in guitarist Kevin Breit and pianist Jon Cowherd). But despite the rock pedigree of the backing band, Wilson clearly runs the show, and the subtle, airy arrangements give her lush voice and patient phrasing all the room they require. During a sudden collision of guitar and low strings on “Crazy He Calls Me,” she lets out an earthy laugh like she’s just been shaken out of a moment of languor. The album’s reading of “Strange Fruit” employs some apt rock turbulence, while “You Got to My Head” struts on the plush splendor of a Gamble-Huff production. Wilson has chosen tunes that reflect her vast stylistic range, and as usual makes them all her own, which is as much a salute to Holiday as one could ask for. For tonight’s performance she’s joined by Breit, Cowherd, and saxophonist Robby Marshall from the recording, along with regular cohorts in bassist Lonnie Plaxico, violinist Charlie Burnham, and drummer John Davis. —Peter Margasak
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