Recorded on August 13-17 2007 at Petit Bois Studios, Jackson, MS
Vocalist Cassandra Wilson has used her 15 years at Blue Note to explore the interpretive range of her voice, whether singing tunes by Van Morrison, Robert Johnson, Lewis Allan, Miles Davis, or Hoagy Carmichael. In many ways, Wilson has offered a new view of the standard by using classic rock and Delta blues tunes in her live and recorded repertoires. That said, Loverly is her first offering comprised almost completely of American songbook standards since Blue Skies 20 years ago. Wilson produced the recording in Jackson, MS, and surrounded herself with old friends: guitarist Marvin Sewell, bassists Reggie Veal and Lonnie Plaxico, drummer Herlin Riley, and labelmate and pianist Jason Moran. The material is beautifully chosen; it ranges from Oscar Hammerstein's "Lover Come Back to Me" and Luiz Bonfa's "A Day In The Life Of A Fool" (the English version of "Black Orpheus") to Juan Tizol's "Caravan," Irving Mills' "St. James Infirmary," and Ray Noble's "The Very Thought of You." Given Wilson's working methods, these standards are performed in iconic ways - without losing the central integrity of their sources. A prime example would be "Caravan," where the basic rhythmic pulse has been doubled with a snare, hi-hat, and taut, edgy piano. Wilson offers the melody as written, but with her own stretched-line phrasing applied to the lyric. "Lover Come Back to Me" carries within it the gentle bounce of the original, and Wilson evokes both Nina Simone and Betty Carter in her rhythmic approach to the lyric and melody. The warm double-time guitar strut of Sewell paces the track; Moran's solo walks a line between show tune formalism and vanguard improv that is fresh and exciting. The reading of "Black Orpheus" here is unusual: Wilson is very conservative in her approach to the melody, so much so that the beautiful Portuguese "saudade" element is texturally amplified and bossa is stretched to the breaking point. The band's meld of subtle Afro-Latin rhythms evokes Cuban son, and conserves the root elements in the original. The duet between Sewell's truly unique acoustic guitar style and Wilson's vocal on "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" is utterly tender. A pair of left-field cuts are here as well. First is a group improvisation called "Arere." Propelled by a hypnotic, nearly funky upright bassline, Sewell plays short choppy chords with Afro-Cuban percussion in the backdrop; Moran plays around and through the polyrhythms as Wilson sings and speaks - she improvises with the band in a number of different languages. Strangely, it doesn't feel out of place here. The other ringer is a read on Elmore James' trademark blues "Dust My Broom." It is not offered as the raucous barroom wailer it classically is. Instead, it's snaky, sultry, and steamy. Sewell's edgy, razored slide guitar, hand percussion, and Wilson's finger snaps accompany her voice on the first verses, establishing a groove before the rest of the band enters. Her phrasing is pure sassy soul that gradually takes this blues firmly into the jazz camp. Wilson has done what many other singers - many of them on Blue Note - couldn't even envision: she has taken a substantial part of the American songbook, employed a crack, risk-taking jazz group, and added new depth, texture, and meaning to these songs, without sacrificing their elegance or appeal. Loverly is the only reason to avoid imposing a moratorium on the very tired standards genre that has become the bane of jazz in recent years. It cannot be recommended highly enough.
All Music Guide
Cassandra Wilson is best known for singing originals and unusual covers, but standards are where she started. Loverly was produced in a rented house in her Mississippi hometown, with assembled invited musician friends who got down to the business of recording then and there.
It's impressive to hear the class and character Cassandra has injected into these 20th century songs. With the help of Yoruba percussionist Lekan Babalola she knits West African rhythms into stripped-down arrangements, featuring Lonnie Plaxico (bass), Jason Moran (piano) and Herlin Riley (drums).
Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most is a true eye-opener. Cassandra's voice is so deep and resonant it's tangible, and she tells her story of loneliness backed only by Marvin Sewell's silvery acoustic guitar. He reappears playing ethereal slide guitar on Black Orpheus, supported by Cuban-sounding percussion and piano, under Cassandra's whispered, desolate vocals.
The Very Thought of You, a sublime duet with guest bassist Reginald Veal, features a rhythmic solo and sinuous vocals, but Wouldn't It Be Loverly is a strange choice. It's polished off skilfully enough, but lacks the spark of originality of other songs on the album.
It is the up-tempo tracks that succeed in turning sparks to flame here. A traddish version of Lover Come Back To Me smears Cassandra's mellifluous vocals across Jason Moran's wild piano playing and Arere, the only original on the album, is a frenetic fusion of unstoppable, cascading rhythms. On Caravan too, hectic percussion tumbles over jumbled piano and guitar, with Cassandra's voice at the other side of the room one moment and eerily close the next.
The Mississippi house feels so much a part of this recording that it deserves to be credited on the sleeve. Cassandra sounds as though she heads to the kitchen in Caravan, then pops out of the bathroom in The Very Thought of You, before looming up close and husky. The occasional word with the band, a slightly off-key entry to a chorus and the laugh that follows it are all left in the mix, making this recording so relaxed and personal that it feels like a live set in your own living room. And wouldn't that be loverly?
- Kathryn Shackleton
06 June 2008 (www.bbc.co.uk/music/release/9qxm/)
All Music Guide