Review: Cassandra Wilson at Ronnie Scott’s

Cassandra Wilson, Ottawa 2008. Photo credit Scott Penner/ Creative Commons
Cassandra Wilson
(Ronnie Scott’s, 11th July 2013. Final night of four, first set. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

On Twitter, she’s @reallycassandra. It’s a username which asserts individuality and authenticity. She’s in her late fifties, so it perhaps also gives a sign that the different musical hinterlands which have shaped her identity can now all happily co-exist.

There’s the place of her birth, Mississippi. Jackson, not quite delta, but deep south. Then there’s her profound absorption of the jazz canon, and of the great jazz singers, plus the association with Steve Coleman and M-Base. And the now-classic Blue Note albums taking the pop songs she grew up with, and on which her musicality and stop-you-in-your-tracks gift for phrasing left such an individual stamp.

To judge by the reaction of a full-to-bursting Ronnie Scott’s last night, the moments of most complete connection-  when even the idiot table of chatterbox blokes near me found itself drawn to give rapt concentration –  were Wichita Lineman from the album “Belly Of The Sun”, and the encore, Time After Time from “Traveling Miles”. In Lineman it was those poignant gaps in the phrase, the rests between the words which keep you hanging on for the next word: “I know I need him more than want him, and I want him for all time” was simply unforgettable. (If Renee Fleming rules in legato, Cassandra Wilson is empress of the pause).  In Time after Time it was the sense of complete freedom in the groove, the kitten-stretching of the rhythms, languorously, way over the bar-lines.

With a strong, capable melodic voice alongside her, that of Swiss-born Harmonica-player Gregoire Maret – and a second house to perform for later –  she could pace herself. While band members such as the extremely inventive pianist Jon Cowherd played solos, she sat back. In fact she never strayed too far from the zone where  she could feel the agreeable thrum of the E string of the upright bass played by long-term associate Lonnie Plaxico.

Her strong band came into its own in the gentle Lembra de Mim by Ivan Lins, with guitarist Brandon Ross an inspiring soloist, while Angola unleashed the drum-power of John Davis (There’s a nice Youtube version of it where she drapes herself in an Angolan flag, filmed in Luanda).

I’d found her most recent album, Another Country from 2012, recorded in Florence over ten days with Italian guitarist Fabrizio Sotti less successful. It’s a cheap shot, but the azzurri are not the blues. Nevetheless, things maybe work out right in the end, and maybe this experiment with the boundaries of the authentic serves in retrospect as a reinforcement of where the centre really is.

Last night she was having fun, increasingly towards the end of the set, animating the powerful Ella swing of Foggy Day, gleefully whipping up the staccato energy of Clarksville. With this live show, and her current band, @reallycassandra is for real, and back on her home patch.

Support was from an international Ronnie’s All-Stars package, with bassist Tim Thornton fresh down from winning a British Jazz Award in Birmingham the previous night, and Christian McBride’s trumpeter Freddie Hendrix on a welcome visit.

Band: Gregoire Maret, harmonica, Jon Cowherd, piano, Brandon Ross, guitar, John Davis, drums, Lonnie Plaxico, bass 

 1 Secret Life of Plants
2 Children of the Night
3 No More Blues
4 Lembra de Mim (Ivan Lins)
5 Angola
6 Wichita Lineman
7 Foggy Day
8 Another Country
9 Clarksville
Encore – Time After Time

Categories: miscellaneous

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