The alliance of Cassandra Wilson's vocal ambience with the heralded jazz label Blue Note two decades ago brought about a profound creative renaissance for both parties.
For Wilson, it provided a platform for a rural roots sound that her singing had only suggested up to that point. On the Blue Note albums that followed, her vocals — whispery in volume but lusciously husky in tone — employed elemental inspirations of jazz, blues and world music to weave a light yet rustic sound that was all her own.
Another Country is Wilson's first album since leaving Blue Note. The accents surrounding her singing have shifted slightly, but the hushed emotive atmospherics that became trademarks of her Blue Note recordings continue to enchant.
On the surface, Another Country moves its inspiration to Italy. Wilson enlisted guitarist Fabrizio Sotti as co-producer and chief instrumentalist and recorded a set dominated by original material in Florence. The support comes from percussion (supplied in part by Weather Report and Sting alumnus Mino Cinélu), accordion and bass. From there, the music rains down in a variety of summery shades, from the feathery, near-Brazilian colors of Almost 12 to the township harmonies of Olomuroro.
The approach Wilson takes to these tunes is essentially the same as on her Blue Note records. In other words, she remains a singer who works off her surroundings — especially guitar and percussion — with the flexibility of an instrumentalist. Throughout Another Country, her vocals produce chant-like impressions on the tune's spacious lyricism instead of serving as a center that the music has to revolve around.
The album-opening Red Guitar is a beautiful example. Sotti and accordionist Julien Labro set the stage with far sunnier variations of the blues than what Wilson has been accustomed to. Once the percussion enters, Wilson takes possession, and the tune blooms.
Another Country's only cover is the standard O Sole Mio. Wilson turns it into a seductive meditation that sounds as if it took a turn through the Caribbean while journeying back to Florence.
Sotti is given loads of room to roam, including a pair of brief instrumentals that echo the more melodic playing of Pat Metheny. He also proves a wonderful foil for Wilson during the rubbery, finger-popping soul of No More Blues and the acoustic, lullaby-like When Will I See You Again.
Sure, the music of Another Country is tied to a foreign land. But Wilson is such a worldly and conversational stylist that she makes the more exotic shades and sounds seem as if they hail from just down the street. In doing so, she has created a summertime treat both wondrous and delectable.