CASSANDRA WILSON / “Dust My Broom”
There is a big push on behind Loverly. Go here to view an eight minute promotional video in which Ms. Wilson talks about the process of putting this album together. Looks like they recorded this one in a house in New Orleans. I know the ace New Orleans rhythm team of bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Herlin Riley are integral to the album. Recording in a house also partially explains some of my reservations about the engineering sound. Actually, I think it was more a question of the engineer and what Ms. Wilson wanted rather than where it was recorded. My concern is that her voice and the other instruments don’t sound fused into one. But that’s my ear and other listeners may hear it differently. I should mention that recording sound is something I work at. I have produced recordings, my own and other musicians, working with a variety of engineers under a variety of conditions, including recording in a friend’s front room. But enough of that technical stuff. Loverly is being compared to Blue Skies because of repertoire. They are both covers of standards. Except, Blue Skies was a straight ahead jazz album using American songbook standards and Loverly is far, far from straight ahead and mixes all kinds of music including a bossa nova classic (“Black Orpheus”), two blues classics (“St. James Infirmary” and “Dust My Broom”), one afro-jazz original (“Arere”) and a jazz standard (“Caravan”) in addition to the songbook tunes. I’ve included some cuts from Blue Skies in the jukebox so our listeners can compare for themselves. My bottom line is that Cassandra the jazz singer has left the building. There is nothing on Loverly that compares in a jazz mode to what she did with her phrasing and melodic improvisation on Blue Skies, nor does the band swing as hard. Hands down, Blue Skies is the far, far stronger “jazz” album. On the other hand, the afro-jazz and afro-blues stuff on Loverly is absolutely, unequivocally, top of the line sublime. I wish this had been an album locked into the afro rhythms and the neo-blues investigations. That’s where Ms. Wilson is at her strongest. Easily. By far. Forget reprising the straight ahead jazz elements with this crew—maybe with some other musicians, it might have worked better. I know some of these cats—I believe I produced drummer Herlin Riley’s first professional recording; I know I did bassist Reginald Veal’s first recording. These cats can play the traditional music, can play the hell out of some straight ahead jazz but that’s not what the band as a whole does best and that’s not where Cassandra is at right now. So why even go there. Why not just throw down with what you’re really feeling? You can hear it on “Caravan.” Cassandra loves locking into those grooves. And them blues pieces, “St. James” and “Dust My Broom”—the music is both organic and orgasmic. They really, really get off. I’m clear. The comparison to Blue Skies is all marketing hype. The real news is the afro direction. Let somebody else reprise straight ahead, or get another band together specifically to do that, but, see, what Cassandra’s working with right now: old don’t cut it. This is some new ish/issues, this is putting full blown afro back into black music, at a heightened level. Plus, her instrument has deepened, the honey is thicker, darker. Before, her internal rhythms were faster, she's into some floating, slow-mo stuff now. I'm not saying she can't sing straight ahead. I'm just saying she does something else better now. And believe me. I know Cassandra can do straight ahead jazz. I saw her in Boston one night with Cindy Blackman on drums. They were beyond sublime. Jazz. Jazz. Jazz. But even then, they were especially grooving on a couple of blues numbers. And, you know, the document is there. Blue Skies is proof positive that Cassandra is a jazz singer. But she is also something else and right now that something else, that afro element, that experimentation with fusions of different ingredients from the palette of African-heritage musics (more than one particular music style) is what is most exciting to me about what Cassandra Wilson is doing. I will never stop listening to Blue Skies. It’s a classic. But, damn, some of this new Loverly stuff—out of this world. All aboard. I’m with it. —Kalamu ya Salaam Who cares what it is? First off, it's fascinating to hear English-language lyrics to "Black Orpheus." I love that haunting melody and have always wondered what the lyrics meant. Second, I think Kalamu is dead-on accurate with everything he says here. #1, Blue Skies is superlative jazz vocalizing. It's just perfect. #2, What Cassandra is doing now isn't really jazz anymore, but at the same time, it isn't really pop either. It's Cassandra's own thing and it's every bit as fascinating and engaging as what she used to do when she did sing jazz. I haven't seen Cassandra live so I can't say whether or not she still "has it" as a jazz singer, but it does seem obvious that jazz isn't where her heart is anymore. I mean, you listen to "Caravan," a record that practically begs for a straight-ahead treatment, and instead Herlin and Reginald come in with a deep, funky samba-esque groove while Cassandra does her Cassandra thing over the top of it. I really enjoy listening to it just like I enjoy almost everything Cassandra does. But I'd really hesitate to call it jazz. Really though, in the end, who cares what it is or what we label it? The truth is, both Blue Skies and Loverly are, in their own individual ways, damn good albums. I'll be listening to both of them for years to come. —Mtume ya Salaam
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