Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cassandra Wilson Live at The State Theatre in Ithaca, NY

As much as I like rock and roll music (a lot!), many of my most memorable concerts have been either classical or jazz performances. There was seeing Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring at Boston Symphony Hall or Henryk Górecki’s Symphony Number 3 in Portland, Oregon. On the jazz front, I once saw Charlie Parker protégé Phil Woods play at the now defunct Zootz, a tiny club in Portland, Maine. It was an acoustic show and I was sitting five feet from the band. Sunday night at the State Theatre provided me with another concert for my list. Cassandra Wilson played to a much too small crowd of about 400.

Cassandra Wilson is to my mind the preeminent jazz singer performing today. As my wife describes it, she has a way of finding the song within the song. So when she performed Glen Campbell’s song “Wichita Lineman” at her show, the tune was totally morphed. For Wilson, it is as though the song is a sheet of paper to be folded like origami. The paper is still there, but is has turned into something greater, and certainly more beautiful.

As a performer, she and her amazing band didn’t disappoint. They were a tight, serious, and playful band adding guitar, piano, bass, drums, and percussion to her vocals. This was aided by the excellent sound provided by Calf Audio. The secret to a show like this is that it shouldn’t sound amplified at all. And it didn’t. You could hear all of the instruments in the mix perfectly. If you wanted to listen specifically to the bass, for example, you could. And it sounded acoustic.

What this means is all of these elements, built on Ms. Wilson’s incredible voice, created an evening of transformative music. When I closed my eyes and listened it was as though I was floating. I’m not sure how else to describe it. This was one of those concerts I’ll never forget by an artist that I’ve wanted to see live for over a decade.

Set List:

A Sleeping Bee
Black Orpheus
St James Infirmary
Sweet Lorraine
Them There Eyes
Wichita Lineman
Dust My Broom
Till There Was You

Encore: Death Letter/Arere

Here's a live performance of Cassandra Wilson and her band playing "Death Letter."


Danielle said...

It was good. So good I keep coming back to it and thinking that maybe I didn't appreciate it *enough* in the moment.

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