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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby

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Blue Note 50999 5 21788 2 5



1. Lover Come Back To Me
2. Black Orpheus
3. Wouldn't It Be Loverly?
4. Gone With The Wind
5. Caravan
6. 'Til There Was You
7. Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most
8. Arere
9. St. James Infirmary
10. Dust My Broom
11. The Very Thought of You
12. A Sleepin' Bee
Cassandra Wilson - Vocals
Marvin Sewell - Electric guitar, acoustic guitar (tracks 1-10, 12)
Jason Moran - Piano (tracks 1-6, 8-10, 12)
Lonnie Plaxico - Bass (tracks 1-6, 8-10, 12)
Reginald Veal - Bass (track 11)
Herlin Riley - Drums (tracks 1-6, 8-10, 12)
Lekan Babalola - Percussion (tracks 1,2, 4-6, 8-10)
Rhonda Richmond - Background vocals (track 8)

Some singers play it safe - sticking closely to the melody and avoiding any daring feats. Other singers are braver - even reckless - and many of these are the real jazz singers, who genuinely improvise as they go along. Betty Carter is probably one of the best-known of this latter class of vocalists, and so is Cassandra Wilson. On this new album, Cassandra takes huge liberties with songs: reshaping melodies, disregarding barlines and venturing in all kinds of unexpected directions. In the process she sometimes loses the pitch but generally she is fairly precise about singing in tune. Her delivery is gentle and ingratiating, although she can be cavalier about keeping to the right lyrics, changing the title- track to "Wouldn't that be loverly".

Cassandra's approach makes for a fascinating album which is never predictable. The songs are mostly jazz standards, except for Arere, an original said to be inspired by the Yoruban god of willpower and iron. You can feel here the influence of Lekan Babalola, a Nigerian percussionist who lives in London and was recording with Cassandra for the first time. She asked him "to find that West African drumming pattern underpinning each of the tunes that weren't straight-ahead or ballads". So a song like 'Til There Was You receives an unusual treatment, with prominent percussion. This track is a good example of Cassandra wandering off-pitch, which is not entirely her own fault, as accompanists like pianist Jason Moran adopt an oblique attitude which could mislead any singer expecting to be lead towards the expected note. Cassandra says of Moran: "It always seems like he plays as if he's falling off a cliff, but then brilliantly ends up back in a place that makes perfect sense". Again, this capricious atmosphere keeps the listener alert, attentive to the interplay between the musicians.

The other main accompanist is guitarist Marvin Sewell, who provides all the backing on Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most. His resonant playing fills the background perfectly. On St James Infirmary, his southern-style guitar adds to the eerie mood.

Other highlights include the not-quite-bossa rhythms of Gone With the Wind; the Afro-blues mix of Dust My Broom (with down-home guitar from Sewell, evoking Cassandra's Mississippi birthplace); and A Sleepin' Bee, which uses Wilson's vocal depth to splendid effect (and she scats with Betty-Carter-like freedom).

Loverly? Yes - this album is lovely, not only because it is very agreeable to hear but also because it constantly defies expectations.

Tony Augarde






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