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New Moon Daughter

Jefferson Jackson Steele
Divalicious: Cassandra Wilson cast her spell at Morgan State

By Waris Banks | Posted 3/31/2004

Cassandra Wilson

Cassandra Wilson

Cassandra Wilson came onstage after a simple introduction from WEAA's Marcellus "The Bassman" Shepard, a fitting overture for the Grammy-winning blues and jazz vocalist who is less concerned with her celebrity and more interested in superior music. Joined by her five-piece rhythm section--six if you include the gentle sway of her hips--she opened with Sting's "Fragile," a piece from her 2003 Glamoured, the contralto's 14th. On it, Wilson laments the violence that consumes the world and provides plain commentary: "Nothing ever comes from violence/ How fragile we are/ Like tears from the stars." Though Wilson hails from Jackson, Miss., she's really a world musician and freely includes elements from other genres, and the beauty of "Fragile" is that you can feel rhythmic elements of Spanish bolero and Cuban son.

Wilson doesn't perform covers; she interprets music. Her rendition of Willie Nelson/Patsy Cline's "Crazy" on Glamoured shows how Wilson translates music into her own language. The last time we heard "Last Train to Clarksville," it was 1985 and we were watching The Monkees reruns. Wilson updated these two favorites and made them feel relevant and contemporary through inventive arrangements and her commanding display of vocal range and ability.

The gracious Wilson shared her spotlight with her equally talented musicians. Bassist Reginald Veal played a mesmerizing solo segue into Wilson's rendition of the Luther Ingram classic "If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don't Wanna Be Right)." Percussionist Jeffrey Haynes demonstrated the group's emphasis on African beats on the bongo and congas, the versatile Brandon Ross played both the guitar and banjo, drummer Terri Lynn Covington made the rhythm section richly complex, and Gregoire Maret's harmonica conjured Wilson's Southern roots.

It wasn't a sold-out crowd, but that's OK. It's better to get intimate with Wilson, who chats freely with her audience and makes them feel as if they're sitting in a small cabaret.

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