, , , ,

Last night my wife and I had the pleasure of seeing Cassandra Wilson perform at the Max M. Fisher Music Center in Detroit.

Her concert was held in Orchestra Hall, a venue that seats about 2000. The architecture of the Hall is classified as Neo-Renaissance, which basically means that it’s pretty.

I’d never heard any of the lady’s music, and really didn’t know what to expect.

By the end of the concert she had me.

Five musicians backed her up; piano, electric bass, guitar, percussion and harmonica. That’s right… harmonica. The musicians were all accomplished, but I was impressed by the guitarist the most. He was a bit punchy on some songs, but during his solos I kept looking at the other musicians, thinking they MUST be playing along with him. There was no way that a guitar could make all those different sounds at once.

The lineup was unstructured, so unplanned that the percussionist broke into song at one point while he danced behind his drums. It was a spontaneous revelation of whatever seemed to pop into Ms. Wilson’s head. And there was no doubt that she was in charge.

During a musician’s solo she would walk behind the group smiling radiantly and gesturing like a ballerina. Other times she would just sit down, with her eyes closed and head bobbing, dreads swaying. But when the time came she would always give some unseen signal that it was time to move on.

The music was a mixture that defied classification. Everything from blues to Cajun to jazz, with people in the audience calling out for “Wichita Lineman” at one point. The Glen Campbell song? A piece would, in fact, frequently transition from one genre to another, without pause or warning. Every song was  rendered in her own unique style, which I could only describe as joyful abandonment to the music.

And her voice?

The tone of her voice stretched from breathy innocence to full-throated “take care of stuff” woman. She displayed an amazing vocal range that extended from the middling scale of soprano to the deepest of contralto. I started out sitting back and relaxed, but ended up sitting on the edge of my seat with my head cocked to the side… entranced and wanting to hear more. When the music stopped, I still sat there… not ready to believe it was over.

Cassandra Wilson? I’m a fan now.