Music review

Music review: Cassandra Wilson

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 March, 2015, 9:25am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 March, 2015, 9:25am

Cassandra Wilson, Cultural Centre Concert Hall, Saturday  March 21, 2015

Coming Forth By Day, Cassandra Wilson’s tribute to Billie Holiday, the centenary of whose birth falls on April 7, won’t be released until that date, although advance copies were available for sale before and after the first night of her Hong Kong Arts Festival performances.

Consequently I, and presumably most of the rest of the audience, had little to base expectations on beyond some You Tube promotional clips, although she began touring the show in February. 

Wilson has come to Hong Hong straight from three nights at the Blue Note jazz club in Tokyo, and those performances, and two for the Hong Kong Arts Festival, are her only Asian dates. 

The first night was well attended, and an appreciative crowd heard Wilson and her band, already well rehearsed it seems, perform an electric 21st century re-imagining of some of the obvious, and some of the less obvious, highlights of the Lady Day repertoire. 

The songs, including Good Morning Heartache, You Go My Head, The Way You Look Tonight, and God Bless The Child have been re-imagined in the kind of twang guitar Americana idiom in which Bill Frisell specialises.

This certainly puts a different spin on them, but many of the subtleties of Wilson’s singing were lost in the amplified wash of processed electric guitar (Kevin Breit) and violin (Charlie Burnham). 

John Davis’s drum kit was amplified for a rock rather than jazz sound, leaving bassist Lonnie Plaxico, pianist Jon Cowherd and multiple woodwind player Robby Marshall to maintain some sort of  instrumental connection to the kind of  accompaniment we all usually associate with this repertoire. 

Wilson has said that her aim has been to capture something of Holiday’s tone and spirit while breathing fresh life into the arrangements. 

The spirit was there, and she was clearly absorbed in the songs, but the tone was overpowered by the instrumentation, although this may have been simply a matter of sound balance. 

There was nothing wrong with the playing per se though, and it was a particular pleasure to hear the great bassist Plaxico holding the whole thing together.

In addition to the songs Lady Day sang there was one original, the Last Song, dedicated to her and the great saxophonist Lester Young.

It was a fairly short show at around 90 minutes, including encores, but well received .