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In a new world of earthy sound

April 02, 2006|Josh Kun

Cassandra Wilson

"Thunderbird" (Blue Note)

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IT'S been three years since we last heard from Cassandra Wilson, and in the opening minutes of "Thunderbird" it's tough to recognize her.

Her trademark husky bronze voice is there, but thanks to producer T Bone Burnett and an outstanding supporting cast of musicians, it's got the kind of company the venerated jazz and blues singer doesn't usually keep: programmed R&B beats, looped saloon piano and a crackling sample of '70s Mardi Gras funk from the Wild Tchoupitoulas.

Instead of the deconstructed standards and retooled pop songs that made her the alterna-jazz star of the pre-Norah Jones '90s, this one is Wilson's own "Go to Mexico," and she finishes it off with a few lines in Spanish over Reginald Veal's thick acoustic bass plucks.

Even when she returns to the sparse, acoustic arrangements she's best known for -- a droning seven-minute crawl through "Easy Rider," her French chanson-like climbs over Marc Ribot's percolating guitar on "Lost" -- "Thunderbird" drops her in a whole new world of earthy, textured sound.

She's especially at home on Burnett's "Strike a Match," where her fluid voice bends over skipping drum fills and strings that scrape and moan. She sings it as if it's "Body and Soul," but like all of "Thunderbird" (in stores Tuesday), it's as un-standard as you get.

Josh Kun

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