Sunday, 22 March 2015

Sultry but Slow

Two-time Grammy winner Cassandra Wilson performed in Hong Kong
This April 7 marks the 100th anniversary of Billie Holiday's birth and jazz singer Cassandra Wilson has a new album marking the vocal legend's birthday called Coming Forth by Day: A Tribute to Billie Holiday.

And at the suggestion of YTSL we went to see Wilson perform tonight at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall as part of the 43rd Hong Kong International Arts Festival.

"I've been in love with Billie Holiday's voice since the moment I heard it, and she has inspired me throughout my career," Wilson said in the program notes.

The first of the two-night concert was already sold out so we settled for the second one, that was almost full. Unlike the other night with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Wilson's band took up centre stage, with a piano and keyboard, drums, guitar, bass, woodwinds, and electric violin.

The all-male band warmed up the crowd until Wilson made her appearance in a black sequin sleeveless gown with a slit down the side, and pointy heels. She started off by singing The Way You Look Tonight, Don't Explain and What A Little Moonlight Can Do, before taking off her shoes and going barefoot the rest of the evening.

Her latest album pays tribute to Billie Holiday
Her voice is so sultry, and if it had to have a food reference it would be buttery smooth with the sweetness of caramel. However her pacing was very slow, as YTSL remarked, as if Wilson were performing in an intimate nightclub setting.

But we were in a formal concert hall with a few thousand people and surely she could regulate the pacing of the show to be a bit fast here, a bit slow there, eventually building to a strong finish.

Instead we were stuck on the slow song side. During You Go To My Head, Wilson walked off stage and says to the band she'll be back later... and we're left with the band trying to entertain us when we've come to see her. Some people in the audience even get up to leave, which seemed strange, but perhaps they had other things to do than watch the 59-year-old Wilson give her interpretation of Holiday's songs?

Eventually she comes back, and at one point we wonder if she was nursing a hangover, since she mentioned they were hanging out in some hotel last night...

Nevertheless the individual band members were fantastic together and as soloists. There was a lot of kudos for Robby Marshall, the young tall guy who played the saxophone, oboe and flute, as well as for guitarist Kevin Breit. Pianist Jon Cowherd kept everything in check, with his own noodling.

After about 70 minutes, she sang another slow number, The Last Song, followed by Everything A Good Man Needs that seemed to pick up the pace of the concert. But alas, it really was the last song, and she and the musicians left the stage!

Following some energetic clapping, the band finally came back, and after they started playing, Wilson also returned to the stage to sing I'll Be Seeing You -- another slow one.

For some, Wilson's performance seemed muted, and fell short of expectations, but as someone watching her for the first time, I quite enjoyed her sultry singing, though would have appreciated a few more songs to round out the evening.

Cassandra Wilson
Coming Forth By Day: A Celebration of Billie Holiday
Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall
March 21-22

Songs performed in order:

The Way You Look Tonight
Don't Explain
What A Little Moonlight Can Do
Crazy He Calls Me
You Go To My Head
All of Me
Good Morning Heartache
These Foolish Things
The Last Song
Everything A Good Man Needs
I'll Be Seeing You (encore)


  1. Nice -- and generous! -- concert review!

    I have to admit to being disappointed by Cassandra Wilson's performance tonight -- and shocked by how her rendition of such as "The Way You Look Tonight" (a song I love) sounded!

    To be fair though, I thought that Wilson got better in the second half of the concert -- with my favorite of the songs she sang being "These Foolish Things". But I don't think she, a two time Grammy Award winner, gave as good as she could have for some reason.

    BTW, compare Michael Buble's rendition of "The Way You Look Tonight" with what you heard tonight:-

    1. HI YTSL -- I'm not familiar with Cassandra Wilson so I couldn't be critical about specific songs... I just enjoyed it for what it was...

  2. Hi again --

    Check out Cassandra Wilson's rendition of "Time After Time" here:-

    The buttery voice is there -- but also more soulfulness in it than there was tonight, right?

    1. Hi YTSL -- Yep -- but you're going to have to ask her where the soulfulness went!