When Cassandra Wilson played New York City’s Blue Note in February, a lot was riding on her week of shows. She was introducing a new album, Belly of the Sun (Blue Note), her first in three years, and a new band, her first in nine years without music director Lonnie Plaxico. And she was pushing her unorthodox approach even further, a style that had won an enthusiastic audience but had divided jazz critics between those who hailed her as a leading innovator and those who dismissed her as a crossover compromiser.
Wilson looked fabulous as she took the stage opening night. She wore a rumpled blue shirt over a black-velvet blouse and black high-heel boots; her almond-frosted dreadlocks were bundled in the back and spilled down her neck. She peered at the audience from under her heavy-lidded eyes and cracked one of her signature half-smiles as if she had just heard a juicy bit of gossip about each and every one of us.