For the past decade or so, vocalist extraordinary Cassandra Wilson has become most widely known for her "popification" of jazz—gently blurring the chalky line that separates pop from jazz until it blends with the colors on both sides, creating countless ghostly hues with a peerless contra-alto voice and supreme melodic sensibilities. And it's inside that no-man's land that Wilson seems most comfortable, flirting with funk, soul, jazz, pop and blues until she finds just the right combination for each song.
On Glamoured, her new Blue Note release, Wilson strips away the horns, pianos and orchestrations that marked some of her previous releases in favor of groove-oriented instrumentation, and the organic combo of guitars, upright bass and percussion—and the occasional harmonica and banjo—serves both her original material and eclectic selection of covers extraordinarily well. In Wilson's hands, Willie Nelson's "Crazy," Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" and Abbey Lincoln's "Throw It Away" emerge from the trappings of timelessness as rekindled souls. But it's Wilson's original compositions that transcend, from the Latin essence of "Heaven Knows" to the blues-inflected "On This Train."
Wilson's voice is the perennial calm before the storm, lingering tenderly over key phrases, then fading into the ether at the exact moment when a lesser singer would be expected to reach into his or her bag of tricks and technicalities. She's a natural, this singer, in much the same way as Roberta Flack, Nina Simone and a handful of others who had a gift for intonating not just from the heart, but from deep within the soul. It's one thing to sound bittersweet, but quite another to make bittersweet sound enchanting, and therein lies Wilson's greatest talent.