Although her recording career has been somewhat erratic, Cassandra Wilson became one of the top jazz singers of the '90s, a vocalist blessed with a distinctive and flexible voice who is not afraid to take chances. She began playing piano and guitar when she was nine and was working as a vocalist by the mid-'70s, singing a wide variety of material. Following a year in New Orleans, Wilson moved to New York in 1982 and began working with Dave Holland and Abbey Lincoln. After meeting Steve Coleman, she became the main vocalist with the M-Base Collective. Although there was really no room for a singer in the overcrowded free funk ensembles, Wilson did as good a job of fitting in as was possible. She worked with New Air and recorded her first album as a leader in 1985. By her third record, a standards date, she was sounding quite a bit like Betty Carter.
After a few more albums in which she mostly performed original and rather inferior material, Wilson changed direction and performed an acoustic blues-oriented program for Blue Note called Blue Light 'Til Dawn. By going back in time, she had found herself, and has since continued interpreting vintage country blues and folk music in fresh and creative ways up until the present day. During 1997 she toured as part of Wynton Marsalis' Blood on the Fields production. Traveling Miles, her tribute to Miles Davis, followed two years later. For 2002's Belly of the Sun, she drew on an array of roots musics -- blues, country, soul, rock -- to fashion a record that furthered her artistic career while still aligning well with trends in popular music. Glamoured, released in 2003, posed a different kind of challenge; half the material was composed by Wilson herself.
Unwilling to stand still, she gently explored sampling and other hip-hop techniques for 2006's Thunderbird. She followed 2008's Loverly, another album of standards, with Silver Pony in 2010. Ever a musical chameleon, she changed direction again with an album of mostly original tunes entitled Another Country, which she co-produced with electric guitarist Fabrizio Sotti. Recorded in Italy, New Orleans, and New York, it was released in the summer of 2012. Wilson switched labels in 2015, signing to Sony Legacy and releasing the Billie Holiday tribute Coming Forth by Day. The album was produced by Nick Launay, who is best known for working with rock acts like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Supergrass, Midnight Oil, the Cribs, and Nick Cave. ~ Scott Yanow