Format: 24-bit/96kHz AIFF download

Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****

Sometimes we like to think we own our favorite musicians: If we like something they’ve done, they should always do it like that. If their new record doesn’t please us, we can laugh it off as a whim, or stop buying their albums. But look at it from the artist’s point of view -- they need to develop, to change, to keep growing.

Cassandra Wilson’s new album is like nothing she’s done before and will probably alienate many of her fans. Nick Launay, producer of records by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, was in charge, and used the Seeds’ percussion section. The overall tone is dark and laid-back.

Coming Forth by Day

Coming Forth by Day, a tribute to jazz icon Billie Holiday, includes 11 songs associated with her -- e.g., “Don’t Explain,” “Billie’s Blues,” “Crazy He Calls Me,” “All of Me,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” “These Foolish Things,” “Strange Fruit,” and “I’ll Be Seeing You” -- and closes with an original by Wilson, “Last Song (For Lester).” Wilson’s basic approach is to present them all in slow tempos in a deliberately paced procession that detractors will no doubt call funereal. Wilson’s dusky alto emerges from droning bass and drums, as do other solo instruments and, occasionally, a string section. There is drama but little emotion -- Wilson lays out the words straight, leaving them to speak on their own.

Don’t judge this album on a single hearing -- Coming Forth by Day grew on me. Many have complained that the sound is too boomy and indistinct, but I found this largely a function of the volume level. When I turned it way up, everything seemed to focus -- the bass and drums didn’t get louder, but the midrange and upper-frequency details emerged more clearly. The 24-bit/96kHz download helped with such details, while preserving the darkly ominous lower-register sounds.

Coming Forth by Day may polarize Wilson’s fans, but I find it a most interesting experiment that succeeds more often than it falters, and that demands several hearings. Listen three times and see if it doesn’t keep improving.

. . . Rad Bennett