On Wilson's new "Coming Forth by Day," she puts some fresh perspectives in classic Billie Holiday songs.

cassandra wilson album cover

On Coming Forth by Day, Cassandra Wilson brings a tangible languor to the Billie Holiday songbook. She’s not exhausted, but “The Way You Look Tonight” omits almost all traces of time so that no beat or pulse can hurry on the moment’s reverie. Drummer Thomas Wydler doesn’t push, so tracks have clear rhythms, but they’re heard more than felt. “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” is similarly still as she marvels at the title thought, but Wilson does so looking back on the night fondly as the first light of morning rises, judging by the bird-like violins in Eric Gorfain’s arrangement. 

Cassandra Wilson will play music from Coming Forth by Day at Jazz Fest’s Zatarain’s/WWOZ Jazz Tent Saturday at 4:10 p.m. The album’s producer. Nick Launay, is best known for his work with Nick Cave, and he brings the richly textured, sonically nuanced sound of his world to Wilson’s interpretations of Holiday’s songs. There’s little kittenish enthusiasm in these versions and few songs that can fill a dance floor, but they bring Holiday into a contemporary musical world that you could imagine her inhabiting.

Launay doesn’t fret over creating natural sounds and instead places Wilson’s voice in clearly constructed, artful sonic contexts, but they’re never mere exercises in mood-for-mood’s-sake. Each framework speaks and gives Wilson room to work with delicate intimacy. She’s not as hushed or plainspoken as Shelby Lynne is on 2008’s Just a Little Lovin’, where she sings Dusty Springfield songs to the mirror in her bedroom as she falls apart at 2 a.m., but Wilson’s gentle, hushed performance has a lovely privacy, and that quiet makes her more expressive moments all the more compelling.

Critics can argue that Coming Forth by Day takes a lot of the jazz out of Holiday’s songs, and there are few of the usual earmarks of conventional jazz recordings on it. But the trade-off is an album that opens up the ideas in the songs Holiday performed, and even though she didn’t write them, they cohere as presented by Wilson into a portrait of a clear, insightful commentator on love and desire.