Miles of Styles
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Shawn Lee, the multi-instrumentalist/composer extraordinaire whose forays into funk, spaghetti westerns, 1960s television music, electronica, MPB, and pop have turned him into a well-respected and often requested film and television score writer, once again looks deep into his bag of influences for Miles of Styles. Lee reaches across the globe in creating the nearly two dozen tracks on the album, from Italy ("Ciao Bruno") to Nigeria ("Lagos Calling") to the U.S. ("San Diego"), and practically everywhere in between. In the hands of a lesser artist, this kind of multi-national traversing might seem hodgepodged or disconnected, but as Lee is no way a purist — and never makes any claims to be so — the 20 songs here flow smoothly and naturally from one to the next. These are his songs, not Brazilian songs or Indian songs or Parisian songs or Jamaican songs, though he is informed by the traditions of each, or at least by the popular conception of these traditions. The actual authenticity of "Chinese Chillin'," for example, is debatable, but this isn't the purpose of Miles of Styles. Lee is respectful of the different cultures, certainly, but these are his interpretations, interpretations that merely resemble the originals, don't imitate them. They're done with a wink and a smile, like the smooth-rocky "Tokyo Dancer" or the jangly "Brazilian Bubble," nodding at the inspiration while clearly and cleanly laying down his own layered wind lines, the guitars and warm keys, the always funky bass. The most successful interpretations of place, in fact, are those of which he has an intimate understanding. "Great Russell Street," for example, is a fantastically melancholic song, pulling from early Faithless and other '90s British electronica while still sounding very organic and personal, the certain result of many long walks on gray days. If listened to overly intently, the jazz flute solos and wandering key chords can get a bit predictable, but Miles of Styles isn't meant to be closely dissected. Instead, it's part of the (very near) background, brushing against your shoulders but not totally there, shaping the mood and atmosphere of the situation, but leaving space for your own preferences and movement and travel within.
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