Arts & Culture » Theater Critic's Choice

Cassandra Wilson

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The jazz diva of the 90s makes a much-anticipated return to Chicago. With her dusky timbre, her melismatic swoops and glides, and her ability to maintain artistic control while seeming to lose herself in the music, Cassandra Wilson stands out--even among the crowd of excellent young jazz singers who've emerged in the last couple years. (But Wilson doesn't really belong to that crowd anyway; her newer converts are surprised to learn it's been eight years since her first album.) In her seductive, even intoxicating music, Wilson combines the voluptuous majesty of Sarah Vaughan and the liberated rhythmic vitality of Betty Carter. But Wilson also worked with the M-Base collective--the group of young musicians who began applying hip-hop rhythms to jazz in the mid-80s--and that experience has left its mark: Wilson doesn't rap, but the swirling melodies and polyrhythmic pulse of M-Base still shape her music in subtle ways. The lost time I saw her she showed a surprising ineptitude at running the show: long breaks between tunes, rambling and pointless musical intros, and a rapport with the audience best described as benign neglect. But the circumstances of next week's shows (not to mention the intervening four years) lead me to expect a quite different approach this time around. Wilson arrives on the crest of her hit album Blue Light Til Dawn, a spare, largely acoustic, often fascinating examination of African and blues roots; and she brings with her some of the accompanists (guitarist Brandon Ross, violinist Charles Burnham) who helped make the album such a success. All of which suggests that she'll be presenting music from the album, giving her stage performance a structure it once lacked. Wednesday, Quicksilver, 3855 N. Lincoln; 327-1223.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Chris Callas.

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