Cassandra Wilson | Thunderbird

This feels like a transition disc. The singer, who overhauled her sound in 1993 to create one of the freshest new aesthetics in jazz, one anchored in the blues, is nudging at another sonic space here. It’s one that is coloured by electric keyboards, programmed textures and occasionally heavy backbeats and simply puts you in a spin if your ear has become attuned to a lithe acoustic guitar and percussion as Wilson’s most apposite backdrop. Yet the hip-hop undertones of Thunderbird aren’t a problem because the singer has more than enough authority not to mention bass in that sturdy baritone of (No ladies, a contralto it ain’t!) hers to take the weight. ‘Go To Mexico,’ with its swish movement from dark neo-soul verse to Latin chorus, is a real grower, proving that the lower, sexier frequencies can work well and ‘Tarot’ is a similarly well-wrought arrangement in which Wilson’s poise and pacing are superb. That said, these very precise aural sculptures feel at odds with the "traditional" CW signature of guitar-voice-drums heard on killer reprises of the eternal blues ‘Red River Valley’ and Blind Lemon Jefferson’s ‘Easy Rider. It almost feels as if there are two different albums in one here. And that’s what makes for the slightly disjointed feel – a question mark remains as to whether all of the material coheres as one set. Yet there’s no denying the quality of Wilson’s performance and her desire for change is commendable. How quickly she reaches her chosen destination remains to be seen. That’s why Thunderbird is a disc of transition. Kevin Le Gendre

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