Although her recording career has been somewhat erratic, Cassandra Wilson became one of the top jazz singers of the ‘90s, a vocalist blessed with a distinctive and flexible voice who is not afraid to take chances. The voice is more visual than audible; shaded, iridescent, tangible, substantial. It seems to flow effortlessly. Read any of the dozen or so biographies on Cassandra Wilson and you’ll discover some basics: born and reared in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1960s and ‘70s by musician and educator parents.
Classically trained on piano from age six until the age of thirteen, she also received further musical instruction as a clarinetist for the concert and marching bands of secondary school. During the ‘70s, she could be found performing Joni Mitchell songs behind an acoustic guitar, or singing with a blues band in Little Rock, Arkansas, in front of a large funk band in Jackson, or in the company of long-time friends in an all-girls ensemble. In the eighties, Cassandra moved to New Orleans where she performed with local luminaries Earl Turbinton and Ellis Marsalis. After a year, she relocated to East Orange, New Jersey, where she made a decision to take her chances on the New York jazz scene. After a stint as the main vocalist with Steve Coleman’s M-Base Collective, Cassandra began recording on her own.
Her development can be tracked through her discography. From the standards on Blue Skies to the Grammy-winning projects New Moon Daughter and Loverly, to the combination of originals and interpretations played by a collection of Mississippi and New York musicians on both the 2001 release, Belly of the Sun, and 2003’s Glamoured, Cassandra continues to evolve as a vocalist, songwriter, and producer. Unwilling to stand still, Wilson gently explored sampling and other hip-hop techniques for 2006’s Thunderbird. Wilson followed Loverly, another album of standards in 2008, and Silver Pony in 2010.
Creatively, Cassandra Wilson has never rested on her laurels, and her new album, Another Country (2012), is no exception to the rule. Nine of the ten songs are composed by Ms. Wilson and/or her collaborating partner, guitarist-producer Fabrizio Sotti, with the tenth a very special arrangement by the duo of the classic aria, “O Sole Mio.” Recorded in Florence, Italy, the entire sound of the album is intimate, guitar-driven, and lushly romantic. Launched by the lead single, “Red Guitar,” Another Country is poised to invigorate Cassandras intensely loyal fan base as well as greet new audiences.
She is a world renowned vocalist, songwriter and producer, with an extraordinary following, but at heart she is still a Mississippi girl whose art reflects her deep musical and cultural roots, anchored in the fertile Mississippi soil.