The last time I saw Cassandra Wilson, she seemed lost in a slow-motion, narcissistic fog.
What a change-up Wednesday at the Triple Door, where she was irresistibly animated — chatting with the crowd, smiling warmly, shifting her weight from side to side as she danced slinkily in place — and, as always, in ultra full voice. Her well-known edition of Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey” flew out at the crowd like a slow-burning fireball of ecstasy.
Wilson is celebrating the 20th anniversary of her groundbreaking, near-million-selling album, “Blue Light ’Til Dawn,” where she first offered that glorious Morrison tune. That, plus more cuts from “Blue Light” and songs from other recordings lit up her set.
Wearing knee-high black boots and a flared, asymmetrically printed dress with red circles suggesting an African theme, the diminutive, corn-row-bedecked chanteuse kicked off by caressing the ballad “You Don’t Know What Love Is” in a throaty, whispered contralto.
Given the Delta blues-inspired front line of her band — with Kevin Breit’s bottleneck slide guitar and the incomparable harmonica of Gregoire Maret — that song could well stand as her theme, with its opening line: “You don’t know what love is, until you’ve learned the meaning of the blues.”
Wilson means it. One of her great accomplishments has been to slow-drag the blues back into jazz. She continued that project Wednesday by luxuriating in Robert Johnson’s lonesome invitation to “Come On In My Kitchen,” effortlessly assuming the voice of a forsaken man.
Wilson’s low notes were a marvel as she excavated the line “caressing me deep” on Ray Charles’ “Tell Me You’ll Wait For Me,” her voice swirling with bassist Lonnie Plaxico like molasses in corn meal.
Wilson’s other great accomplishment has been to embrace white singer-songwriters like Morrison, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. She made Mitchell’s heart-wrenching meditation on the troubadour life, “Black Crow” — “I feel like that black crow flying in a blue sky” — all her own, as Maret’s rich and reedy harmonica wrapped it in lace.
Wilson closed with her famous cover of the Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarksville,” another transpositional tour de force, then as an encore offered an achingly beautiful version of Young’s “Harvest Moon.”
The singer brought a red Fender Stratocaster to the stage but never picked it up. Maybe it’s just as well. Any more, and hearts might well have burst.
7 and 9:30 p.m. Thursday, May 8, at the Triple Door, 216 Union St., Seattle; $25-$50 (206-838-4333 or www.thetripledoor.net).