Album Remarks & Appraisals:
Long considered one of the finest singers in the jazz world, Cassandra Wilson's new album is a tour de force of emotion, technique, interpretation and style as she brings her considerable powers to this collection of classic songs. Once again she has gathered a band of shining talent, featuring the brilliant Jason Moran on Piano with guitarist Marvin Sewell and Lonnie Plaxico on bass - a band that is so good together that Cassandra was happy to sit in the producer's chair and let the songs speak for themselves. Featuring incredible interpretations of the classics like Black Orpheus, Caravan, and The Very Thought of You, Cassandra is one of the few singers that can genuinely re-invent a song that we all think we know, such as Wouldn't It Be Loverly and turn it breathe new emotional life into it. However, the standout track has to be the stunning funky, soulful, brooding St. James Infirmary which has become a staple of her live set
"Cassandra Wilson's Loverly is amongst the singer's most straight-ahead and stripped down albums since her debut for Blue Note fifteen years ago with Blue Light 'Til Dawn (Blue Note, 1993). Self-produced, and recorded in a rented house in her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi with little artifice, simple arrangements and a great sound, Wilson and a core quintet of regular playing partners deliver ten standards, Robert Johnson's "Dust My Blues," and one band original, the West African-derived "Arere."
Wilson hasn't sounded this good for some time - elegant, unforced and buoyant. And in the rhythm. Most of the tracks are underpinned by kit drummer Herlin Riley and Nigerian drummer and percussionist Lekan Babalola. Wilson calls herself the "unproducer," but her decision to createLoverly's arrangements from the drums up, starting with rhythm patterns suggested by Babalola and Riley, contributes immensely to a set shot through with mettle.
The drummers are joined by two more class acts, guitarist Marvin Sewell and pianist Jason Moran. Chicago-born Sewell brings a down home directness to the music, Moran a measure of unpredictability. It's an effective combination. Sewell is nicely nasty on a funked-up "St. James Infirmary" (which also features a gutsy cameo from trumpeter Nicholas Payton) and doffs his hat stylishly to slide guitarist Elmore James on "Dust My Broom." Moran solos with abandon on "Caravan" and "Infirmary," and more reflectively on "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most."
Wilson herself brings fresh air to some very familiar material. She's utterly poised and in control at slow tempos - as on the gorgeous "Black Orpheus," "'Til There Was You" and a definitive "The Very Thought Of You," given a deliciously slow reading accompanied only by bassist Reginald Veal. And she kicks it out with elan at faster tempos, like the opening "Lover Come Back To Me."
Positivity and good humor permeate practically every track. Even "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" is celebratory and heartwarming, refreshingly free of the pathos with which it is more usually tinged. (Wilson is pictured sitting in the song's "one enormous chair" on the cover).
"St. James Infirmary" and "Dust My Broom" are a little darker, but they too have a vitality which is infectious. Even "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most" sounds like something to move forward from rather than something sorrowful to get stuck in.
Great songs, great singing, and a great band. Lovely indeed." -AllAboutJazz
"When Cassandra Wilson played New York's Blue Note Jun. 9th, she let her band jam a long time before she stepped into the heavy mix of groove and musical jest among the instrumentalists. The room was sweltering because of the day's heat and the seemingly absent air conditioning, but Wilson never broke a sweat. Wilson always stands at the center of the musical tempest (hot syncopation, cool blues, or breezy harmonization) as it swirls around her and on her new CD - Loverly, released at the club that night - the musical storm is both a step back (it's a standards album) and a step forward (you never heard them like this before).
On the CD Wilson uses African percussionist Lekan Babalola to recall the rhythmic roots of jazz - his layered playing alongside that of drummer Herlin Riley, who matches Babalola in focus and intensity, adds an element of unpredictability to what have come to be the readily anticipated melodic and harmonic turns of the traditional pop repertoire. But it is Wilson's sonorous voice that tethers each tune in the story of the lyrics; thus the polyrhythmic rendition of "Caravan," her opener at the Blue Note, both musically and lyrically evokes images of hot, sandy places where romance is the oasis; by contrast, "The Very Thought Of You," accompanied by only Reginald Veal in a one-off performance on bass while Wilson walked nonchalantly about the room in the home where the CD was recorded, reveals the simple, everyday musings of a more settled love. (Wilson performed this tune as her eleventh-hour number at the Blue Note gig and saxophonist Ezra Brown sat in - just one of the many perks of live performance.)
Wilson's long-time collaborators, bassist Lonnie Plaxico and guitarist Marvin Sewell, appear on the disc along with pianist Jason Moran and backup singer Rhonda Richmond. But not all of the players on the CD could make the Blue Note gig, so Wilson brought in a couple of hyper-talented young instrumentalists to round out the band: drummer EJ Strickland and pianist Jonathan Batiste.
And what a joy it must be to play with Cassandra Wilson. It certainly is a joy to listen. Beyond merely loverly, this CD is one for the collection." -AllAboutJazz
Rolling Stone (p.95) - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "Wilson stretches jazz standards into new shapes here."
Down Beat (p.72) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "The real proof is in her connection to the essence of a song like 'Gone With The Wind,' where her husky contralto blends so completely with Jason Moran's fractured piano and Marvin Sewell's guitar that the lyrics are felt as much as heard."
JazzTimes (p.114) - "Here she keeps things deliberately and smartly simple....LOVERLY stands as one of Wilson's coziest, loverly-est recordings....It's full of surprises."
Vibe (p.60) - "Her blue-smoked contralto is one of the most distinctive voices of her generation, and her latest album, LOVERLy, proves once again that she needs no artifice to soar musically."
Personnel: Cassandra Wilson (vocals); Jason Moran (piano); Lonnie Plaxico, Reginald Veal (upright bass); Herlin Riley (drums); Lekan Babalola (percussion); Rhonda Richmond (background vocals).
Recording information: Petit Bois Studios, Jackson, MS (08/13/2007-08/17/2007).
Photographer: Jenny Bagert.
Cassandra Wilson continues her reign as one of the best jazz vocalists of the late 20th and early 21st century on 2008's LOVERLY. Even though songs like "Caravan," "Til There Was You," or "Lover, Come Back to Me" might be judged as some of the moldiest oldies in the American songbook, Wilson's gifts as an interpreter, and the superb band she's assembled, enliven these chestnuts in a way that makes them wholly fresh.
Wilson fans already adore her dusky, honeyed vocal texture as well as her stylish, drawn-out phrasing, and there's plenty of that here, especially on sultry showcases like "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most," and "Dust My Broom." Whether the vibe is Latin ("Black Orpheus") or funk ("St. James Infirmary"), Wilson makes the tune her own. But part of LOVERLY's appeal rests in the sometimes ambient, sometimes edgy playing of her ensemble, which includes guitarist Marvin Sewell and the pianist Jason Moran (check out his solo on "Lover Come Back to Me"). Organic, seductive, and gorgeous, LOVERLY is a first-rate jazz album that makes the Great American Songbook irresistible again.
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