Cassandra Wilson Takes us to Another Country

When I sat down at the Blue Note to see Cassandra Wilson play I knew it would be surreal.  She’s one of my heroes, so I was overwhelmed with needing to absorb into my cells every detail of the performance so that I could relive it at will.  It would have to carry me for quite a while.  The last time I saw her was in San Francisco sometime in the late 90s.

In celebration of the recent release of Cassandra’s new album Another Country, she did a multi-night run at the Blue Note.  I caught the second set of her Thursday show.

The show opened with the band playing harmonica master Gregoire Maret’s rendition of Stevie Wonder’s The Secret Life of Plants, a perfect precursor for the evening’s experience.  Cassandra came out and immediately went in with Saddle Up My Pony, followed by her tasty bossa nova flavored The Man I Love.  She then brought us cuts from the new album: No More Blues, Another Country, Red Guitar.  They did us all in with Meshell Ndegeocello’s The Chosen – Cassandra sings this song with absolute raw conviction where the silence in the room is as critical as the music and lyrics.  A fiery conversation between harmonica and drums appears midway through the song that both startles and inspires.  It was a show highlight for me.

A live music experience with Cassandra Wilson is hard to describe.  She always has the perfect balance of musicians who appear to telepathically anticipate and respond to each moment.  For this performance, her team included, along with Maret, Marvin Sewell and Brandon Wasserman, both in perfect synchronicity on guitar, Bradley Jones, bass; and John Davis on drums.  I’m so filled with the sound they achieve.  They understand Cassandra’s Delta blues flavored, deeply sensual velvet whispers, and her spontaneous changes.  When she scats, sound waves and color emerge and change with every emotion, bouncing around and into the soul.  Surely the angels sound their trumpets through her utterance.  There’s nothing like it…at all.

At the end of the show, Cassandra introduced us to fellow Ojah Music Group artist from Mississippi, Tawanna Shaunte’ who sang a beautiful song that is soon to be released on her own project.  Shades of Color is a challenging and inspiring call to open your mind and heart to the unending spectrum of all that the world offers.  I loved the song and look forward to more from her.  I’m certain I’ll be writing about her soon.

The new album In Another Country, much of which was recorded in Italy, was produced by Cassandra Wilson and Fabrizio Sotti for Ojah Music Group, LLC is truly something to behold, and has its own cast of stellar musicians.  After experiencing some things in her life, she lends her signature to her story and shares it with us.  There’s not a dull moment on this project.  Of particular importance to me, is Red Guitar – with the imagery in the lyrics, I can imagine her traveling through Italy while writing this.  The visual phrases take you to the Italian countryside with all its textures and colors, and she signs her name to it with her one of a kind musical statements.  The title track, with its deeply personal lyrics, reveals to us the universal nature of her style, her influences and her incredibly precise intuition.  Olomuroro is an African folk tale that features a choir of children.  Another particularly important track on the album shows us the depth of Cassandra’s ability.  Only she could honor O Sole Mio in the way she does.  But you’re going to have to experience that one for yourself.  Words don’t work.