In Cassandra Wilson's hands familiar songs turn to brightly colored clay; in her mouth the shapes into which she molds them turn to liquid gold. In the last few years Wilson has become extremely popular thanks to her distinctive interpretations of tunes by everyone from the Monkees and U2 to Robert Johnson and Hank Williams, but her recent Rendezvous (Blue Note), a mostly standards collaboration with pianist Jacky Terrasson, brings home that she is first and foremost a jazz singer. Like Miles Davis, she just happens to have a musical conception that's not limited to one single tradition. That's not all the two have in common: No matter how brilliant the trumpeter's sound was, emotional expression was always paramount in Davis's playing. And even as Wilson's mahogany voice swoops and curls around the most daring improvisations, her guiding forces are feeling and motion, not technique and agility. So her decision to interpret his music on her next recording must have been a natural one. A few weeks ago she presented a variety of Davis-associated tunes in an unprecedented six-night stand at New York's Lincoln Center, and this one-nighter in Chicago is the only other scheduled show. Although the New York Times review was mixed, both it and a glowing notice in the Village Voice described Wilson's concept as masterful. Her group includes several acoustic guitarists, a bassist, a few percussionists, and a five-piece string section. I can only guess how smoothly it'll all come together, but I'm sure it will retain the tender vulnerability of Davis's music while sounding nothing like it. Friday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by David Mayenfisch.