Had high hopes but they faded soon.

Grade - 1.3

released Nov 9th, 2010

from the album - Went Down To St. James Infirmary


from all music


Although her recording career has been somewhat erratic, Cassandra Wilson became one of the top jazz singers of the '90s, a vocalist blessed with a distinctive and flexible voice who is not afraid to take chances. She began playing piano and guitar when she was nine and was working as a vocalist by the mid-'70s, singing a wide variety of material. Following a year in New Orleans, Wilson moved to New York in 1982 and began working with Dave Holland and Abbey Lincoln. After meeting Steve Coleman, she became the main vocalist with the M-Base Collective. Although there was really no room for a singer in the overcrowded free funk ensembles, Wilson did as good a job of fitting in as was possible. She worked with New Air and recorded her first album as a leader in 1985. By her third record, a standards date, she was sounding quite a bit like Betty Carter.

After a few more albums in which she mostly performed original and rather inferior material, Cassandra Wilson changed directions and performed an acoustic blues-oriented program for Blue Note called Blue Light 'Til Dawn. By going back in time, she had found herself, and Wilson has continued interpreting in fresh and creative ways vintage country blues and folk music up until the present day. During 1997 she toured as part of Wynton Marsalis' Blood on the Fields production. Traveling Miles, her tribute to Miles Davis, followed two years later. For 2002's Belly of the Sun, she drew on an array of roots musics -- blues, country, soul, rock -- to fashion a record that furthered her artistic career while still aligning well with trends in popular music. Glamoured, released in 2003, posed a different kind of challenge; half the material was composed by Wilson herself. Unwilling to stand still, Wilson gently explored sampling and other hip-hop techniques for 2006's Thunderbird. Wilson followed Loverly, another album of standards in 2008, and Silver Pony in 2010.

Album Review

Yeah, Cassandra Wilson is a jazz singer, but she’s a 21st century jazz singer, mixing elements of jazz, pop, rock, Delta blues, and light funk into her performances, expanding what a jazz vocalist can be in a contemporary world with her horn player phrasing, smoky texture, and a voice that has matured into a haunting, sensual alto. She tackles some jazz standards, but she’s also adept at taking modern rock and old country-blues songs and finding a way to make them into new jazz standards, fully aware that she’s pushing boundaries in a genre that all too often plays it safe these days. Silver Pony is a delight, with a light, shimmering sound that makes each track feel like it’s part of a deliberate yet spontaneous fabric. Wilson and her band (Wilson on vocals and synthesizer, Marvin Sewell on electric guitar, Jonathan Batiste on piano, Reginald Veal on electric bass, Herlin Riley on drums, and Lekan Babalola on percussion; Ravi Coltrane adds saxophone on “Silver Moon” and John Legend adds vocals and piano on Big Star’s “Watch the Sunrise”) recorded live improvisations at European concerts in Warsaw, Seville, and Granada and brought them into the studio to expand and work on with producer John Fischbach, resulting in several new songs, and with a handful of carefully picked songs by writers as diverse as Charley Patton (“Saddle Up My Pony”), Stevie Wonder (“If It’s Magic”), Paul McCartney (“Blackbird”), and Jody Stephens (the aforementioned Big Star track “Watch the Sunrise”), and with a couple of stone-cold jazz standards (Billie Holiday’s “Lover Come Back to Me” and the traditional “Went Down to St. James Infirmary”) to fill in the spaces, Wilson and her band have created a wonderful and almost seamless set of music that explores a lot of territory and yet still keeps its cohesiveness.

Track Listing

1 Lover Come Back to Me Hammerstein, Romberg 6:51
2 Went Down to St. James Infirmary Public Domain , Traditional 7:14
3 A Night in Seville 3:00
4 Beneath a Silver Moon 6:39
5 Saddle Up My Pony 9:32
6 If It's Magic Wonder 4:34
7 Forty Days and Forty Nights Roth 4:59
8 Silver Pony 0:36
9 A Day in the Life of a Fool 7:35
10 Blackbird Lennon, Lennon, McCartney 6:45
11 Watch the Sunrise 3:31