Cassandra Wilson – Traveling Miles (DTS) Review
Price: $19.98 | Get the Best Price
I have wanted to review this album for quite some time. I am a HUGE Miles Davis fan and while not extremely versed in all his works, what I have experienced, I've enjoyed immensely. This album is a tribute to the spirit of Davis as created by Cassandra Wilson. Most of the tracks were created or covered by Davis to which Wilson adds her vocal stylings and lyrics. A few tracks are Wilson originals that were composed with the spirit of Davis as the force driving her creative process.
Discs are listened to a minimum of twice with at least a 24 hour separation between the listening sessions. During session one, notes are taken on the subjective experience of the implementation of the DTS 96/24 (in this case) along with notes on other features. During session two, the original notes are compared and expanded upon during the listening experience. Additional listening sessions are added as needed. Before each session, speaker calibration is checked using an SPL meter and the test-tones on the receiver, in this case the Denon AVR-3805 .
1) Run The VooDoo Down
2) Traveling Miles
3) Right Here, Right Now
4) Time After Time
5) When The Sun Goes Down
6) Climb That Road
7) Someday My Prince Will Come
8) Never Broken
9) Resurrection Blues (Tutu)
10) Sky and Sea (Blue in Green)
12) VooDoo Reprise
Cassandra Wilson is a jazz vocalist in the traditional sense. She uses her husky voice to explore the rhythms and tonalities of each of the songs on this album. While the overriding theme of the album is jazz, songs range from a more traditional Miles Davis sound to funk to very nearly pop. Often the only "jazzy" sounding element is the vocals and the upright bass. Ms. Wilson covers a number of Miles Davis tunes spanning his entire career, adding her own lyrics, and a few original songs inspired by Davis.
For the most part, the Audio Quality on this album is good: the upright bass has the correct twang, the brushed snare really sounds great, and many of the percussive elements ring especially true. The reverb and echo inherent in most instruments is authentic and realistic. I was particularly impressed the brush work on the snare. You can really pick out the individual brush strands catching on the drum head. The sound is as non-uniform and inconsistent (these are good things) as they should be.
While overall there is good definition and clarity of the instruments, there are moments where an instrument or a few instruments become muddy or compressed. Often, a track would start off with a very clean, very clear sounding instrument. As other instruments are added, some of the definition starts to fade. Usually you can still pick out and hear all the nuances of a many of the instruments, but some tend to become blurry. At one point, an acoustic guitar lost all its fullness and transformed into tinny, hollow, shadow of its former self. An upright bass was indistinguishable from electric. I can't tell you why or how this occurred, but occur it did.
Throughout the album, Cassandra Wilson's voice is clearly anchored up front and stays center stage. Never, not for one moment, is there any doubt that her voice is the absolutely most important facet of each composition. While I generally approve of this arrangement, in this particular case, her voice is so loud at times that it sometimes drowns out the rest of the arrangement. It is never so offensive as to cause me to seriously downgrade the album. It is more like watching a movie where the dialog makes you turn it up, but the explosions make you turn it down. You don't like the movie any less, you just end up fiddling with the remote more than you'd like.
As stated previously, Ms. Wilson's voice is anchored firmly up front. Instruments are usually anchored in either the Front Left or Right speaker and very little movement will be heard. The surrounds, for the most part, are used to extend the sound from the front speakers to the back of the room. There are a few moments during the album that utilize the rear speakers for specific sounds (such as chimes) and the effect is very well done - thought there were definitely some missed opportunities.
One has to make a decision when remixing an album for the surround format - how far do you push the material. Some music speaks to you and practically dictates which sounds would work well in which speaker while other music just doesn't lend itself well to the format. I think that there was a lot of untapped potential in this album. There were a number of instruments and/or sounds that were not fundamental to the melody that could have been placed in surrounds that weren't. I can understand someone not wanted to force sounds into surrounds unduly, but I felt that more could have been done without compromising the integrity of the composition.
One really glaring missed opportunity was in Track 12: Run the Voodoo Down (Reprise). Ms. Wilson is joined by a guest vocalist for a scat/improv version of the first track. Instead of varying the voices between the front speakers (giving them both a home) and then bringing them together for their unison sections, both were anchored up front. Now, this didn't sound bad per se , but it could have sounded much better and would have worked toward justifying the conversion to the surround format.
The soundstage of the entire album seemed to be a little undefined. Ms. Wilson's voice is rock solid up front but the remaining instruments seemed to be placed in the front speakers with no real thought as to how they would blend together. I respect the fact that they didn't have the instruments move haphazardly around the room, but I never got the sense that the soundstage was unified in any coherent way.
Features include a video, gallery of 10 pictures, lyrics, biography, and links. The video is a grainy, black and white, short video that looks to be footage taken while touring. One of the most disappointing aspects (aside from the poor audio and video quality) is that the music seems to be from a concert and you get to see a piano player going wild during a performance. Going back to the studio recording and experiencing the more scripted nature is a bit of a let down. Lyrics are offered in the extra section not in addition to them scrolling during playback but instead of.
While there is nothing that is terribly wrong with this album, there is little that makes it stand out as a groundbreaking DVD-A. The Surround Implementation, while not bad, is a little subdued and misses some golden opportunities. The Audio Quality, while peppered with moments of brilliance is sometimes undercut by a muddy instrument upon occasion that confuses the senses. Like I said, there is nothing terribly wrong with the album; there was just a lot of untapped potential.