Release Date: Nov 22, 2010
Record label: EMI
Genre(s): Vocal, Standards, Contemporary Jazz, Vocal Jazz, Contemporary Jazz Vocals, Vocal Music
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.
The follow-up to Cassandra Wilson's 2008 standards album Loverly, Silver Pony has an autobiographical spin, mixes the singer's familiar fascination for the blues with Lennon/McCartney, Stevie Wonder and three originals, and includes a duet with John Legend as the finale. If the best parts of Loverly seemed to indicate a new confidence and focus for the arrestingly velvet-toned Wilson, this mix of studio and live recordings (her first live releases in nearly 20 years) pushes that momentum further. Live versions of Lover Come Back to Me and Went Down to St James Infirmary find her effortlessly massaging the timing on the former, and barely more than sighing the latter over the kind of blues-steeped guitar groove that tellingly appears all over the set.
Not double live… just half Cassandra Wilson gets sole billing on Silver Pony, but her backing band ought to get their names on the LP spine as well. They’re the true stars of this intriguing album, half of which was recorded during a recent European tour and the other half at Piety Street Recording in New Orleans. That hybrid is especially apt for showing off the musicians’ virtuosity, not only their soloing chops but also their collective talent for creating and sustaining dark moods in which Wilson can relate her tales of death and romance.
You would be hard-pressed to find a jazz singer in the last 20 years who has done a better job of combining popular and artistic success than Cassandra Wilson. When most jazz musicians turn to pop tunes and pop stylings, it is a purely calculated move. But when Wilson changed her direction in 1993 with Blue Light Till Dawn, embracing a guitar-centric band sound and combining Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, and Robert Johnson tunes with jazz standards, she took a fruitful creative risk.
Wilson’s vein of excellent form continues with this fine live set. John Eyles 2010 Vocalist Cassandra Wilson long ago attained the happy position where it was unnecessary to tell her followers that a new album was good. The fact it is a Cassandra Wilson album is recommendation enough. Since her Blue Note debut in 1993, she has been in a rich vein of form – and now Silver Pony continues that run.
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