Picks and Pans Review: Blue Skies

updated 01/16/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/16/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

Cassandra Wilson

Here is a collection of old-fashioned love songs, performed by a thoroughly modern woman. Arguably the most talented vocalist among the current jazz vanguard—sorry, Anita—Wilson has experimented on two previous albums, Point of View and Day's Aweigh, with a delightful hybrid of sensuous balladry, funk and free-form improvisation. Here she gets back to basics, with spare acoustic accompaniment from pianist Mulgrew Miller, bassist Lonnie Plaxico, and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington. Wilson strips every trace of saccharine sentiment from such romantic classics as Shall We Dance, Polka Dots and Moonbeams, and My One and Only Love, delivering deep velvety melodies with a loose-limbed sense of self-assurance. She brings a streetwise brashness to the bluesy Don Redman-Andy Razaf classic Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to you and an elegant incisiveness to I've Grown Accustomed to His Face. Even Autumn Nocturne, an elegy to lost love, is treated less as a torch song than an expression of deep longing by a tough-minded lady too proud to let even a good man get her down. Wilson's smoky contralto and improvisational instincts evoke memories of both Sarah Vaughan and Betty Carter in their prime. And the finger-snapping hip-ness she adds to the jazz tradition makes it seem likely, as this album's aptly chosen Irving Berlin title tune suggests, she'll be looking at nothing but blue skies from now on. (JMT/Body and Soul)

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