New Moon Daughter
Instant classic. New Moon Daughter is sure to further the career and reputation Cassandra Wilson's earned as fin de siecle diva and jazz siren entrancing both devotees of the avant garde and those who know no jazz at all. A warmly inviting and authentic voice promoting multicultural roots, who imbues all she appropriates with genius far surpassing post-modern gloss, Wilson recasts the American songbook so hits of Billie Holiday, Son House, Hoagy Carmichael and Hank Williams ring true alongside those of U2, the Monkees and Neil Young. She limns her own songs of faith facing adversity and the solace of sensual love--essentially, blues themes--in a manner both unassuming and persuasive, seemingly offhand but compelling to the point of seduction. Arrangement-wise, too, Wilson and producer Craig Street, her match, prove that less is more, silence equals suspense, and resonant ambiance is emphatically dramatic.
Overall, Wilson's art is more comparable to Billie's and Carmen McRae's than to Ella's or Sassie's--which is to say every drop of her thick chocolate alto bears the weight of coherent storytelling before it indulges the glories of vocal display. Yet Wilson has range, and when she releases a higher-register phrase, or a quicker-than-usual string of phonemes, you realize that musical restraint has let her insinuate herself as close as a slow dance partner. That's just fine: though her tempos are moderate, Wilson swings with the insouciance of a natural, remaining ever aware of and responsive to the instrumental overtures taking place around her.
Despite the stark mordancy of "Fruit," there's no overkill here--rather, gem-like tracks around five minutes long you'll wish were longer. With acoustic guitarist Ross, specialty plectarist Breit, fiddler Burnham, accordionist Cedras and deft percussionists Bowne, Baptista and Haynes back from Wilson's phenomenal Blue Light 'Til Dawn, and too-rarely-heard cornetists Haynes and Morris adding their cries, the stage might be set for an ambitious, extended, daringly improvised composition.
Well, there's spontaneity aplenty, though it occurs within designs as conscious as the choice of pedal steel for "Skylark," the ironic subversion of "Last Train," the reconception of "Death Letter." What's so satisfying is that Wilson's realizations revivify material from within their original intent--and her own "Solomon," "Find Him" and "Little Warm Death" also fuse meaning and musical feeling into one complete experience. No, carp not about New Moon Daughter: the luscious ups and downs of mood and sound Street and Wilson sequenced render this album repeated pleasurable listening, and pace it--dark start to promising end--like one through-plotted piece.
Source: Down Beat, April 1996 v63 n4 p45(1)
Author: Howard Mandel
COPYRIGHT Maher Publications 1996
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