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Tucson Weekly Rhythm and Views

MAY 3, 1999: 

Cassandra Wilson

Traveling Miles
(Blue Note)

IN 1982, WHEN Mississippi-born Cassandra Wilson moved to New York City via New Orleans, she apprenticed with two jazz icons, vocalist Abbey Lincoln and bassist Dave Holland. Nearly two decades later, the 44-year-old Wilson, now her mentors' peer, enlists the help of Holland in paying tribute to his onetime employer, Miles Davis. Actually, it's Lincoln whose help she should have enlisted.

As with her last outing, 1997's Rendezvous (a pairing with pianist Jacky Terrasson), Wilson's Traveling Miles sounds like the singer is wandering. Still not the follow-up her back-to-back Blue Note beauties Blue Light 'Til Dawn ('93) and New Moon Daughter ('95) demand, Traveling Miles nevertheless takes a cue from those previous albums--which included covers from the catalogs of Van Morrison, Neil Young and U2--and rides a one-way rail to the land of adult contemporary radio.

Traveling Miles covers the ground between blues and contemporary R&B/soul music expertly, with Wilson's thick, smoky voice curling around simple acoustic arrangements; but its final destination isn't Jazzville. Considering the album's focal point is one of the singular talents of the genre's history, Wilson setting new lyrics to Davis' compositions or those associated with the trumpet player, this is more or less irreconcilable. Only the warm Delta broil of opener "Run the VooDoo Down," featuring Holland, and its end-of-album reprise with the beguiling Angelique Kidjo, capture anything close to the brooding intensity associated with Miles. What Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," a latter-day (and ill-advised) Davis cover, is doing among more classic material like "Someday My Prince Will Come" and "Sky and Sea (Blue in Green)" is anyone's guess.

Various Artists

The Mod Squad (soundtrack)

WOW, FOR A movie whose only high points were Claire Dane's perky nose and Otis Epps' cool car, this is certainly a happenin' soundtrack. The first four songs are total killers, starting with Busta Rhymes' slow-but-hard rap "Party is Going On Over Here," which sets the tone for the entire album. Although by 13 different artists, most of the songs have the mood of the Blind Faith classic "Can't Find My Way Home" (covered by Alana Davis here), blacked up with the funky sensibility of Curtis Mayfield (who contributes "Here But I'm Gone") and mixed '90s style with a clean, slow, super-hard bass. It makes an incredibly cohesive album in a make-out rap mode. Unfortunately, overrated indie rockers The Breeders break up the flow with some pretty mediocre material, and then the album becomes downright annoying with Chocolate Milk's "Actions Speak Louder Than Words." The disc is redeemed with the final cut, a cover of "My Favorite Things" by Skerik and the Keefus Trio that borrows heavily from the John Coltrane version. This is one soundtrack that's definitely a phase before liquid and gas.

--James DiGiovanna

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