Travelling Miles

COMPOSERS: Cassandra Wilson
LABELS: Blue Note
PERFORMER: Cassandra Wilson (v), Lonnie Plaxico (b), Marvin Sewell (g), Doug Wamble (g), Perry Wilson (d), Jeffrey Haynes (perc)
CATALOGUE NO: 854 123-2

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Fifteen years after arriving on the New York jazz scene, 35-year-old Cassandra Wilson is still the most intriguing singer around today. She approaches music like a medium, her material invoking spirits from Deep South country blues or Africa, as well as the jazz tradition. Her delivery is oblique like Betty Carter’s and the contralto voice rich in range like Nina Simone’s. In lyric writing she is somewhere between Delta bluesman Robert Johnson and dreamy Joni Mitchell.

This new album, which has stellar guest appearances from Pat Metheny and Dave Holland, is a wistful tribute to Miles Davis and combines Wilson originals with impressionistic covers of the trumpeter’s work. Although producer Craig Street and musical director Brandon Ross from the last two Blue Note big-sellers are absent here, self-produced Travelling Miles stays with the winning formula.

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The folksy arrangements for electric/acoustic guitars and percussion make a detailed frame for Wilson’s smoky vocal lines to wreathe and Lonnie Plaxico’s bass lends a seductive and understated momentum. It is languor as an artform. Garry Booth