Monday, October 15, 2012


Jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson

Cassandra, Friday night I caught your show at the Paradise Jazz Series at Orchestra Hall in Detroit. Months ago, when I received a press release announcing you're opening the 2012-2013 series, I was concerned your laid back, grassroots  style wouldn’t fly with the jazz purists the series has historically catered to. Last Year, jazz singer Gretchen Parlato, who's also  a laid back jazz singer, played the series, and she bored the audience. Some of them even walked out. 

I’m a regular at the series. That was the first time I saw people book before a show ended. I suspected the jazz purists wouldn't like Parlato's style, but I never imagined they'd openly disrespect her. She deserved better, and I felt bad for her because she's a dynamic talent.

Months before that show Parlato put out a wonderful jazz album “The Lost and Found”. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Anyway, Orchestra Hall wasn’t a good fit for her. Personally, I would've like to seen her at the Jazz Cafe or Kerrytown Concert House.  A jazz singer with an adventurous soul like Parlato has would feel more welcomed at those venues. 

 I was concerned you’d be disrespected too, but, I was wrong. Cassandra, you’re a pro who knows how to hypnotize a crowd. I never witnessed so many jazz purist with their eyes shut, grooving to every song you put forth. Your voice is best experienced with closed eyes anyway. Cassandra, I’m going to pause here for a moment to recap the concert's highlights for those who wanted to attend but couldn't for whatever reasons.

Trumpeter Terence Blanchard, the Jazz Creative Chair for the Paradise Jazz Series, boasted about Wilson before he introduced her. Blanchard talked about working with her,  her uniqueness, and how she's stayed true to herself despite your critics. 

After Blanchard's pointed introduction, Wilson's band—Gregoire Maret, Brandon Ross, Mino Cinelo, and Lonnie Plaxico—warmed the stage. Then Wilson floated out with her blonde dreads pinned up, wearing a tight tomato red dress and black cowgirl boots.

After the second number, a blues, Wilson told the audience she would be performing two sets, which irked her. Wilson shows are normally one long set heavy of improvisation, breaking disrupts the improvisational flow, she explained. Then Wilson jokingly suggested the audience get used to sitting through a long set of music.

The first set was the bomb. Wilson sang five tunes. One from her current album “Red Guitar” and two from Gregoire Maret’s self-titled debut. Wilson was alluring and she never over did it. A small table and a chair were on the stage. Occasionally when one of her band-mates soloed, she’d sit down and sipped from a white tea cup or fanned herself.

When the music got real good to her, coursing through her body, Wilson unpinned her dreads and  moved gracefully in one spot like a Yoga instructor. Wilson has an erotic way of performing, but it's never unladylike like some of her peers who can be borderline pornographic. Surprisingly, during the second set Wilson struggled a bit.  

Two songs into the set it was clear why Wilson hates intermissions. The 25 minute intermission was enough time for the spell Wilson cast on most of the audience to subside. Clearly, Wilson didn’t have a game plan mapped out for the set. After the third number, she asked the audience for suggestions.

One man called “Strange Fruit”. Another man suggested “Seven Steps to Heaven”. Wilson performed the latter, but not before saying her band didn’t know those old songs. Wilson was kidding, of course, because the band took “Seven Steps to Heaven” on an improvisational joyride.

The set belonged to Maret, who's hot at the moment. In March, he released a self-titled album. A month ago, he kicked ass at the Detroit Jazz Festival. When Maret was feeling Wilson 100 percent, he inched closer to her. His exchange with percussionist Mino Cinelo on “St James Infirmary” was epic. The only disappointing thing about the concert was Wilson didn’t think enough of the audience to give them an encore.

So, Cassandra,  you earned the five minute ovation. The next time you play the Paradise Jazz Series I hope the committee will let you perform one long set.
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