Belly of the Sun

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Blue Note
PERFORMER: Cassandra Wilson (v), Marvin Sewell (g), Kevin Breit (el g), Mark Peterson (b), Cyro Baptista, Jeffrey Haynes (perc), Xavyon Jamison (d)
CATALOGUE NO: 5 35072 2

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Singer Cassandra Wilson went back to her Mississippi roots to record this latest Blue Note session, holing up in a disused railway station in the delta town of Clarksdale. Atmosphere is everything for Wilson and even when she interprets a standard it is entirely recast to suit the gently steaming mood of the set as a whole. Songs simply melt in her mouth.

Here, non-standards such as the country number ‘Wichita Lineman’ or James Taylor’s ‘Only a Dream in Rio" are given the most deliriously enervating treatment. Wilson’s touring band forms the core of the ensemble with guest appearances from young soul singer India.Arie and elderly local musicians Boogaloo Ames and Jesse Robinson.

The sound is predominantly acoustic, interjections from mandolin and banjo adding to the intimate out-on-the-front-porch feel of the production. The delta diva herself is in great voice, whether oozing confidence in the lower register or shimmering seductively through the higher sections.

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Jazz purists may have reservations about Wilson’s material, and the way that it is arranged, since she joined Blue Note. But the natural quality and originality of her voice puts her up there with innovators such as Betty Carter and Abbey Lincoln. Garry Booth