'Til There Was You

It began with a whisper of rain. You could hear wind in the leaves, trees creaking, a distant roll of thunder. The band took the stage and just started making noises, reacting to each other, exploring the pleasures of sound.

Gradually it all coalesced and off in the distance you could start to make out the wheels of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan.” It was an appropriately intuitive and organic introduction to Cassandra Wilson’s show at the State Theater in Ithaca on Sunday night.
 
The barefoot girl and the Burma Shave lyrics led us farther along…
 
This is so exciting
You are so inviting
Resting in my arms
As I thrill to the magic charms
 
The show was heavy on songs from Cassandra’s new CD “Loverly,” much of which sounds a little drowsy to me. On stage, tunes like “A Sleepin’ Bee” and “Black Orpheus” had more vim and vigor, or maybe it just seemed that way being able to watch Cassandra, who was alert and encouraging to every nuance from the band. There was a lot to listen for during the visit to “St. James Infirmary.” Marvin Sewell kicked into the cascading guitar riff that flows through the song. The bass, drums and percussion bristled throughout, but if Jonathan Batiste didn’t steal the song with his piano solo, he took it with the coda. The recorded version sort of limps to a halt. On stage, the band slammed the morgue door shut, but Batiste kept pounding – a weird sustained knotty epilogue that reminded you we’d just been looking at a corpse.
 
Another highlight was Cassandra’s resurrection of the corny “Them There Eyes.” It was unrecognizable until she started singing. It’s her signature trick to get you to listen to something in a new way, whether it’s a jazz standard or a country-pop mega-hit. I don’t even like “Wichita Lineman,” but Cassandra’s version made me cry. The line about “singing in the wire” was written for her voice. The performance was a long slow ache, with the band somehow conjuring up lonely highways, and Batiste again stealing the moment, this time with one of those cheesy little keyboards you blow into.
 
“’Til There Was You” was an appropriate closer. As the lyrics reveal, there are all kinds of things we don’t hear and see and feel unless that one person is there.

 Cassandra Wilson's set listCassandra Wilson's set list

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