Jazz review: Country blues rule at Manchester Guild concert

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When you attend a concert at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild Jazz Concert Hall, you really don't expect to hear country blues. Yet that's pretty much what vocalist Cassandra Wilson and her five-piece backup band delivered Saturday night.

Ms. Wilson hails from Mississippi, the birthplace of the blues; still, it would have been jarring to hear a harmonica, mandolin and dobro resonator guitar -- but no piano -- in such a setting. Still, Ms. Wilson & Co. made it work.

Her vocal range extends further than any singer I've ever heard, as evidenced on "Come on in My Kitchen," when she went down to a low G in the bass range. She doesn't overpower with sheer sound and that's good when you're trying to mesh with a band.

She took apart Van Morrison's "Tupelo Honey" to a point where I didn't recognize it at first. "Redbone" allowed harmonicist Gregoire Maret to stretch out, to nearly a standing ovation; that morphed into "When the Saints Go Marching In," with drummer John Davis taking an extended turn, and out again. The atmospheric 5/4 "Sankofa" featured electric mandolin and guitar effects from Kevin Breit.

The group also gave the Monkees' "Last Train to Clarksville" an intro in 9/4 meter and a New Orleans vibe; again, only the lyrics gave the song away.

Rick Nowlin: rnowlin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3871.

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