Cassandra Wilson is the greatest modern jazz singer who doesn't sing jazz. Her signature sound tends to explore a unique combo of contemporary pop, all-dressed-up blues, and traditional ballads through a smoldering lens. Shes at her best on original tunes that channel her irrepressible sensuality, such as "Poet" on her latest album, Thunderbird. She stirs the slow burn of the track with honeyed vocals and a master jazz musician's phrasing, at once graceful, subtle, and self-assured, as she applies her bedroom voice to lyrical come-ons: "When we make love, we change the patterns of the weather/When we make love, we move the moon." There's power in her passion, and it's easy to melt under her spell. By the time she moans the chorus "You tune me in, then you turn me out
you make me a poet" there's no doubt she's telling the truth, and listeners are hooked. Her approach to blues is a little less convincing, though no less fascinating, as she evokes the Mississippi Delta tradition with the requisite street slang while undercutting its folk flavor with her sophisticated delivery. The singer probably can't help herself, though; her roots are in both Joni Mitchell and the jazz avant-garde, strange bedfellows to be sure, but a smooth ride on Wilson's tongue.
Jan. 29-Feb. 2, 8 & 10 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 3, 7 & 9 p.m., 2008