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Cassandra Wilson: Traveling Miles

Jim Santella By

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Like the career of Miles Davis, Traveling Miles stretches across various musical boundaries. Blending blues, folk, pop, and jazz on one album, singer Cassandra Wilson honors the legendary trumpeter with a sampling from his vast discography. The bebop echoes of "Seven Steps to Heaven," the dramatic modern mainstream modes of "ESP," the earthy fashion of "Resurrection Blues" and the ballad setting of "Blue in Green" create different images into which Wilson implants her deep contralto voice and unique charm. She composed three of the tunes; the title track was written shortly after Davis passed away. Most of the songs feature Wilson’s lyrics as well. The message that we obtain from "Traveling Miles" is that the legendary trumpeter’s music appealed to a wide audience, from country lanes to city streets. Davis’ music and his persona provided an inspiration that drew from our personal pride and still reminds us that - with a little attitude adjustment - we can always make things work out.

Wilson’s career began with influences from her father’s record collection and early studies of the piano and guitar. In the early 1980s she increased the size of her loyal audience as a member of Steve Coleman’s M-Base collective before issuing her first recording, Point Of View in 1985. Wilson’s performances have always included a natural charm that stems from her vocal delivery, and is most certainly complemented by the use of acoustic guitars, dobros, acoustic bass, and strong ties to the blues. Several pages of additional background information and audio samples from Living Miles may be found at http://www.bluenote.com/cassandrawilson/ .

Olu Dara lends a Miles Davis muted horn presence on both "VooDoo" tracks. Wilson’s voice assumes the role of Davis’ trumpet throughout the session, interpreting the lyrics, gently scat-singing specific sections, and adding lively vocalese solos elsewhere. Stefon Harris and Regina Carter grace "Seven Steps to Heaven" with enthusiastic solo work and tasteful accompaniment. With Wilson and her rhythm section, the vibraphonist and violinist make themselves at home and infuse considerable spirit. On "Resurrection Blues" the natural timbre of Cecilia Smith’s marimba blends in unison with the leader’s voice while Marvin Sewell’s electric guitar serves to contrast and fill. Metheny’s fingerstyle classical guitar stands out prominently on "Blue in Green" while Sewell’s bouzouki serves to drive "Piper" as a more forceful stringed partner. Whether Cassandra Wilson is accompanied by her own guitar or by any number of talented artists, she’s likely to produce an album worth your attention. Highly Recommended.


Title: Traveling Miles | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Blue Note


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