If you never imagined headbanging to a song associated with the legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday, we can sympathize. But it’s time to open your mind. Near the end of “Good Morning Heartache,” from jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson’s captivating new Holiday tribute album, Coming Forth by Day, Wilson utters the song’s title in her low, tough voice, and all hell breaks loose. The track erupts with a slashing electric guitar, runaway piano and clarinet ascending skyward. Wilson’s move might seem counterintuitive, but conjuring such a din is a brilliant way to evoke the spirit of the late Holiday, whose best work embodied not just grief and vulnerability but also rueful bitterness.
This week, Wilson, who’s won a pair of Grammys and worked with jazz stars like Wynton Marsalis and Steve Coleman, brings this music to the Apollo, where Lady Day herself performed more than two dozen times. And the timing is hardly random: Holiday would’ve turned 100 this week, and Coming Forth by Day was released April 7, Holiday’s actual birthday. The rock-leaning vibe of the new LP is no chance occurrence, either: Wilson has long been interested in more than just jazz and has recorded both with the Roots and on a Joni Mitchell tribute album. It’ll be a treat to hear her soul-influenced take on “You Go to My Head” and other striking tracks at Harlem’s classiest theater—a call-back to the era when Billie reigned supreme.—Brad Farberman