The superb Ray Charles retrospective that Rhino issued last month will certainly be one of the premier catalog releases of the year, its five CDs admirably capturing the breadth of Brother Ray's nearly 50-year career. And although only a third of his 15 selections performed Sunday appear on that set, Charles' material ably covered the wide terrain of American music that constitutes his oeuvre. Charles' delivery was hearty and enthusiastic throughout the evening. Ballads set the pace, each spiced with minor yet meaningful touches: sultry piano forays on "Georgia on My Mind" and "A Song for You"; humor on "People Will Say We're in Love"; the electric piano switched to xylophone for a solo on "Just for a Thrill"; a rousing "What'd I Say" that got the orchestra to show its mettle as the finale. Most importantly, Charles relied on his own church-inspired songbook, infusing each number with a soulful oomph --- a distant cry from some of his standards-heavy shows of recent years.
Jazz singer Cassandra Wilson, who opened the show with a trio featuring stalwart pianist Jacky Terrasson, added her name to the boundary-bashing bunch in recent years with her renditions of music by Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Robert Johnson.
Wilson’s forward approach makes her such a refreshing voice, each line treated as a pliable springboard. She always stays in control, always is aware of her supporting cast and always places the merits of the lyrics on par with her delivery. Terrasson, who consistently implements rays of hope in even his bluesiest work, provides admirable accompaniment on acoustic and electric piano, whether resting behind Wilson’s mercurial vocals or charging at her with gale force.