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Performer Cassandra Wilson never just phones it in

| Thursday, May 1, 2014, 8:55 p.m.
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Cassandra Wilson

Cassandra Wilson obviously is guided by her outlook on performing.

“You never want to dial it in,” she says of her belief in taking every appearance seriously.

That attitude — and the entertaining work it produces — has kept her popular through a career that had a milestone 20 years ago with the release of “Blue Light ‘til Dawn.” The album established her voice and style, and she is on tour celebrating the rerelease/remastering of the album. The road show will visit Manchester Craftsmen's Guild in the North Side on May 3.

Even after 20 years, she is proud of “Blue Light 'til Dawn” and says she wouldn't do anything differently. Yet, she says she is doing numbers from it in the concert that are “reinvented and really different” because “you never want to stop being fresh and new.”

She will appear in a quintet featuring bassist Lonnie Plaxico, soulful harmonica wiz Gregoire Maret and guitarist Brandon Ross, who was on the album.

Besides showing off her voice, the album established Wilson's ability to span genres of music as she offered “Come On In My Kitchen” by early blues master Robert Johnson, Joni Mitchell's “Black Crow” and Van Morrison's “Tuepelo Honey.”

The only element of the album that didn't please her was the mastering, she says.

“Blue Note didn't have too much faith in it, so they didn't put too much money into it,” she says with a laugh. But the rerelease by Universal fixed it with the work of recording engineer Greg Calbi, she says, and is “amazing.”

Wilson, a Mississippi native, attended Millsaps College and Jackson State University, getting a degree in mass communications. She worked in public affairs at a New Orleans TV station before moving to New York City to begin a music career.

She became one of the founders of M-Base, a collective that tried to blend the sound of soul and funk with traditional jazz.

It was the kind if blending that showed up on “Blue Light ‘til Dawn” and fueled what she calls her “wanderings and meanderings” through music since then.

Wilson went into that project, she says, with the intention of showing her appreciation for various kinds of music — and her ability to present them. The energy of those involved with the music made the album a success. That work attitude more or less describes her efforts now, she says.

Like the album, the tour tries to show where Wilson's music mind is these days.

“Everything I do is planned,” she says about setting a direction for the music. But she realizes too much planning robs the life from music.

“We always leave room to improvise,” she says, “so we are happy with the show each night.”

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7852.

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