Cassandra Wilson

Jazz singers do 'em often (too often, but that's another harangue entirely). We're talking albums of great American songbook standards, that perennial body of material composed between the 1920s and early '50s. When redone in the modern area, these "standards" affairs tend to be boring, but not Loverly, and not with a singer like Cassandra Wilson at the helm. Wilson doesn't merely "interpret" the classic songs "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" and "St. James Infirmary" — she affectionately reinvents them. The song "'Til There Was You" gets a tantalizingly sparse treatment where Wilson's dusky, languid phrasing caresses each word and Marvin Sewell's bluesy electric guitar adds a nifty "Rainy Night in Georgia" feel. Her hushed vocals ride the Afro-Cuban lilt of "Caravan" just as a saxophonist might, and pianist Jason Moran gets to shine with a luminously lyrical solo. Wilson takes a very different kind of standard, Elmore James' blues warhorse "Dust My Broom," and turns it topsy-turvy — stretching the lyrics of the song à la Van Morrison. This album is indisputably modern, free of any retro/old-school baggage, yet Wilson shows that she truly is a jazz singer. Showcasing her chops in a fashion that exceeds expectations, Wilson's Loverly deserves to be heard again and again.

 
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