There was a moment during the recording of her soon-to-be-released album, New Moon Daughter, when Cassandra Wilson just knew. She and a small band were sequestered in a rural barn studio in upstate New York — a perfect setting for the spacious, evocative jazz-pop hybrid that has made Wilson the reigning queen of jazz vocalists. After delivering a haunting reading of Neil Young’s ”Harvest Moon,” she decided to take a break.
”I walked outside and there was the moon, big and yellow, like a harvest moon,” she sighs. ”It was a real confirmation that we were on the right track. It gave me chills.”
Chills? Wilson’s luxurious contralto induces nothing less than shudders. And if jazz is built upon taking risks, then it’s easy to understand why critics fell all over themselves after hearing her first Blue Note release, ’93’s Blue Light ‘Til Dawn, on which Wilson bravely reinterpreted songs by Joni Mitchell, Robert Johnson, and Van Morrison. They called her the next Billie Holiday; in fact, on New Moon Daughter, Wilson inhabits works by U2, Hank Williams, the Monkees, and Lady Day herself. Strange fruit, indeed.