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Cassandra Wilson's Unique Holiday Tribute

05/15/2015 02:34 pm ET | Updated May 15, 2016

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Billie Holiday was born in Philadelphia in 1915, grew up in Baltimore, moved to New York, started to sing while still in her teens and soon changed music history as the inimitable Lady Day. To honor Billie's centenary year, Cassandra Wilson latest release Coming Forth By Day taps into her artistry and legacy, in a decidedly different musical way.

Holiday stated on many occasions that she saw herself as one of the instruments of the
band. She perfected her most famous songs with her singular sense of rhythm and improvisation skill. She never wanted to sing the same way the same way twice. In comments on NPR about her tribute to Holiday, Wilson remarked that it would be insulting to try to sing like Holiday, instead she wanted to explore Billie's musically liberated approach.

Wilson enlisted producers by Nick Launay and Atom Greenspan. Launay is veteran producer of art -- rock band Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. The album is a mix of Holiday classics, each with a different musical mood and all with the pulse of live sessions. Recorded last summer on the West Coast in studio sessions with a stellar line up with Martyn Casey (bass) Jon Cowherd (piano) Kevin Biert (guitar), Thomas Wydler (drums) and guest artists on some of the cuts.

Among the many highlights~

What A Little Moonlight Can Do, shows Wilson's time signature kinship with Holiday, who drove her own tempos. Wilson's silvery vocal (and husky fades)  makes it her own. Breit's steel echo guitar spins the magical atmosphere of These Foolish Things.  This is a completely thrilling performance by Wilson and these musicians.

For the Dorothy Fields/Jerome Kern standard The Way You Look Tonightfeatures Wilson's gold tone mezzo vocals at their best. The anvil heavy bass of Casey and Cowherd's slide keyboard of Cowherd is make this sexy West Coast  roadhouse blues damp circa 1967.

The simmering arrangement of  All Of Me is made pillow talk confessions, in a steely martini lounge piano by Jon Cowherd, with a haunted harmonica - piano - string rewind fade-out. The 60s orchestration on the jazz standard You Go To My Head, turned into a retrodisco/samba number.

The Holiday penned song Don't Explain, her lamentation about a woman dealing with a cheatin' man, is transformed into an art-rock noir. On Billie's Blues Holiday rejects that love 'victim' story line for a throw-that-cheatin'-man-out scenario. Wilson's lusty vocal is framed by a rowdy blues-rock arrangement, featuring T. Bone Burnett's sizzling baritone guitar and sublime voicing of Robbie Marshall on clarinet.

Marshall is also stellar on Crazy He Calls Me, essaying lusty blues, with Wilson's pillow whispery vocal ala Marilyn. On the legendary song Strange Fruit (officially attributed to composer Lewis Allen), Wilson and company give this dramatic cinematic arrangement that builds to a shattering rock denouement. It is sung with more melodic line than its art song origins, but Wilson's vocal pathos just stunning. 

I'll Be Seeing You has an ethereal adagio, accompanied by a steely bent note strings as counterpoint to Wilson's ethereal vocal. Wilson herself wrote Last Song (For Lester) recounting Holiday leaving Paris when she heard of Lester Young's death. 'You are my morning star/forever rising/forever breaking my heart' she sings.

Cassandra Wilson and this band entrance your jazz heart with this recording.