Wednesday, April 14, 1999

Re-Envisioned Davis

Posted By on Wed, Apr 14, 1999 at 12:00 AM

Vocalist Cassandra Wilson has reached the apex of her musical brilliance on her new recording, Traveling Miles, a beautiful tribute to Miles Davis that captures the pulse and spirit of his genius. For this date, Wilson wrote lyrics to classic Davis compositions. It’s these lyrics and her eclecticism that make Traveling Miles unlike the typical tribute album. Throughout his career, Davis explored and pushed himself into far corners to add depth and dimension to his music. The result was music that was bluesy, beautiful and brash — and all of those elements and the same sense of exploration are present on this recording.

Wilson writes like a woman conjured; her lyrics are poetic and, given voice by her range, they have both texture and taste. If you doubt this, check out "Run the VooDoo Down" and "Time After Time": On these tunes her delivery is direct, like that of a blues singer. However, she performs best on "Seven Steps to Heaven" — where she’s paired with violinist Regina Carter — giving this classic number a pop facelift. Carter’s flawless solo blends perfectly with Wilson’s velvet voice.

Wilson reconstructs "Some Day My Prince Will Come" by treating it like a blues tune without compromising its poignancy — it’s heartfelt but not melancholic. Her flexibility makes her unlike other contemporary jazz singers and the eclectic range this flexibility gives her fills this record with grit and soul. This music, which reaches beyond the standard jazz audience, could be equally appreciated by die-hard blues enthusiasts.

Packed with twists and turns, special appearances — Carter, Steve Coleman, Olu Dara — and an array of arresting arrangements, there’s nothing straight ahead about Traveling Miles.

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