Will she bring the carpet? A few years ago, I finally saw Cassandra Wilson live having been by turns enchanted, bewitched, thrilled by her music for well over a decade. Never mind the fan-dom, I was still unprepared for the sensuality, electricity and charge of the live performance. On to stage she came, accompanied by a signature minimal, burning groove from the band, kicked off her shoes and stepped onto the carpet in the middle of the stage. The next year at Cheltenham Festival in the Town Hall, the carpet was there again and so was the same energy on stage, although on that occasion she gave the impression that she thought the audience might have been a bit polite.
Staying polite will be tricky in the intimate surroundings of Ronnie Scott’s, whether the carpet is there or not. What a treat this promises to be. For my money, Cassandra Wilson remains one of the most distinctive voices in jazz today, and first it is the voice that grabs the ear. A rich, husky tone, often delivering lines in a languid, stretched shape, but never free from tension. Its unmistake-able. My introduction to her music was an album perhaps least characteristic of her output; Blue Skies, released in 1988, an album of standards with the sadly recently departed Mulgrew Miller on piano and regular collaborators Terry Lynne Carrington and Lonnie Plaxico, the latter will be in the Ronnie’s band. I’d never heard anything like it. The re-imagining of familiar melodies, stretching and re-making lines so that they remained familiar but took on strange new forms.. and that voice, the timbre and tone so distinctive. I was hooked. Now I can hear some of the echoes of Betty Carter in her approach and from 1993’s ‘Blue Light til Dawn onwards she has applied those sensibilities to a rich blend of country, blues, jazz, rock inflected and pop material as well as jazz standards always with an exquisite instinct for space and lack of clutter in the sound.
The band coming to ronnie’s next week has long time collaborator, co-writer and arranger Brandon Ross on guitar so expect plenty of that now characterisic artful, minmimal arrangements, Lonnie Plaxico on bass, Gregoire Maret on harmonica another regular collaborator and John Davies on drums. More unusally she brings a pianist Jon Cowherd co-founder of the Brian Blade fellowship although 2010 album ‘Silver Pony’ featured young pianist Jonathan Batiste. Anticipation is eager here, I fear this something of a ‘fan blog’ – is that a flog? – but the opportunity to see this great artist in the cosiness of this club is a coup for the club and a treat for us.