Cassandra Wilson | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Cassandra Wilson 

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Cassandra Wilson

Only one song on Cassandra Wilson's new Traveling Miles (Blue Note), her inventive homage to Miles Davis, actually features the instrument Davis played--"Run the Voodoo Down" incorporates some sweet, blues-imbued toots by trumpeter Olu Dara. But that's exactly the sort of audacity that's established the young jazz singer as one of the most creative, popular, and exciting musicians in any genre. Time and time again she's nonchalantly laid waste to her listeners' expectations, and every time she does it, she gains yet more listeners. On the new record she does nothing to deliberately sound like Davis, though her mahogany languor is a natural analogue to the trumpeter's legendary noirish lyricism; the real tribute to him is the way she blithely breaks rules in pursuit of her own muse. Only four of the album's eleven songs (the twelfth track is actually a reprise of "Voodoo" featuring Beninese vocalist Angelique Kidjo) were written by Davis, though it can be said that pieces like Wayne Shorter's "E.S.P." (rechristened "Never Broken" here) and Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" eventually came to be his. Wilson has written lyrics for tunes that previously had none, and while Davis's melodies on pieces like "Tutu" and "Seven Steps to Heaven" are unmistakable, not much else is sacred. As on her previous outings for Blue Note, Blue Light 'til Dawn and New Moon Daughter, Wilson explores a unique, largely acoustic amalgam of jazz, pop, and country blues: even on the most traditionally jazzy interpretation, "Seven Steps," Regina Carter's bold violin playing lends a rough, front-porch fervor, and "Never Broken" hovers over a gorgeous gray area somewhere between the Mississippi Delta and the Maghreb. Traveling Miles isn't even as dazzling as Wilson's first two records, but it erases any doubt that she's the most important vocalist of her time. For this performance she'll be joined by guitarists Marvin Sewell and Adam Rogers, bassist Lonnie Plaxico, vibist and pianist Monte Croft, drummer Marcus Baylor, and percussionist Jeff Haynes. Friday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by JoAnne Savio.

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