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January/February 2011

Cassandra Wilson
Silver Pony
Blue Note Records

Cassandra Wilson expands the notion of hybrid, her specialty, on Silver Pony, a mix of live and studio tracks. The weave underlines her longtime penchant for mixing genres; not surprisingly, her primary foci here are jazz and blues, with the occasional nod to pop. The burgundy-voiced singer also enlists some illustrious guests: old-school-soul torch carrier John Legend contributes piano and vocals to “Watch the Sunrise,” and the muscular saxophone of Ravi Coltrane effectively contrasts with the diva’s plush cool on “Silver Moon,” one of the album’s most compelling and daring tracks.

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Cassandra Wilson
By Will Sterling
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Cassandra Wilson
By Will Sterling

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Silver Pony shows Wilson hasn’t lost a whit of her mysterious power. Whether it’s her saucy take on “Lover Come Back to Me,” her languorous interpretation of Luiz Bonfá’s “A Day in the Life of a Fool,” or her radical, floating update of the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” Wilson doesn’t miss a step. Her surefootedness seems innate and her phrasing remains distinctively elastic. Besides, an exceptional band, particularly guitarist Marvin Sewell and pianist Jonathan Batiste, sparks her. The pacing is the one flaw here; the two instrumentals—one is the title cut, a mere snippet—are pretty but inconclusive, and seem like frill in an otherwise substantial effort.

Still, Silver Pony reaffirms Wilson’s status as a premier jazz singer. And while she’s ineffably smooth, Wilson keeps her edge on, particularly on the longest track, an amazingly soulful rendition of Charley Patton’s wild “Pony Blues” featuring convincing dirty-Delta guitar by Sewell and drumming from Herlin Riley that spans canter and full gallop.

Originally published in January/February 2011
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