Ron Miles – Quiver – Yellowbird/Enja yeb-7728, 66:15 ****:
(Ron Miles – trumpet, sattva (tracks 1, 5, 7); Bill Frisell – guitar; Brian Blade – drums)
Denver-based trumpeter Ron Miles is musician who understands tradition and progression. He’s got a lyrical tone which alludes to the birth of jazz but which also gestures into the present age. He’s a luminary who does not get nearly as much renown or attention as he no doubt deserves. On his latest trio outing, Quiver, Miles moves his muse forward along with help from frequent collaborator, guitarist Bill Frisell, and new ally, drummer Brian Blade. Together the threesome lace originals and covers with gentle fellowship and understated virtuosity.
One of Ron Miles’ identifiable approaches is the application of open space in improvisation and composition. Another is the unification of different styles, from American folk to pre-war jazz, and from blues to pre-rock pop material. Miles and Frisell previously recorded as a duo a decade ago on Miles’ Heaven. That project demonstrated the friends’ affinity and ability to employ insinuated elements and minimal instrumentation. On Quiver’s nine tracks (which clock in at just over an hour), Miles moderately elevates the camaraderie which filtered through Heaven, by adding Blade’s rhythmic grace and percussive nuance. Miles’ innate imagination and the trio’s quiet power motion through Miles’ three opening cuts. The live “Bruise” (one of three tunes taped at Denver’s respected jazz club, Dazzle) has a modernist twist with angular intervals. Miles is the leader but selflessly gives room for Frisell and Blade, and creatively manipulates the trumpet’s lower register to provide a semblance of a bass line. There is a compelling lyrical attribute to the family-influenced ballad, “Queen B,” which refers to Miles’ daughter, Justice. Miles is known for his admiration for Burt Bacharach’s elegant oeuvre (Miles, Blade and Frisell were part of a stellar line-up for the 1999 release, The Sweetest Punch: The Songs of Costello and Bacharach), and some of Bacharach’s inspiration can be perceived in the cadence and modulations which flow through “Queen B.” Miles’ eloquent solo introduces the expressive “Mr. Kevin,” which has a country-inclined lining which rises and recedes, sometimes via Frisell’s precisely placed phrases and other times from Miles’ poetic notes.
Americana sources are burnished brighter on another live number, “Just Married,” which Frisell and Miles did as a duet on Heaven. The original, which highlighted Frisell’s acoustic guitar artistry, had a feeling of unveiled skies. The trio translation accelerates the tempo and metrical drive, while Frisell’s electric guitar supplies a Nashville tone and a blues inference (as well as a bit of dissonance). This longer version has a more interior sense, rooted as it where in a sanctified church environment as well as a Saturday night hoedown. This is sophisticated music without the blatant complexity which can mar similar performances by younger, less wise jazz musicians. The final live cut is an opulent ten-minute rendition of Henry Mancini’s timeworn stand-by, “Days of Wine and Roses” (an apt choice for a venue with a vibrant drinking clientele), where Miles and Frisell embrace the plush melody in succession: Miles first with his lovely opening statement, then Frisell with chord runs which evoke Les Paul and Chet Atkins. Blade keeps the slow swing groove going with deft cymbals and brushes and when he solos he showcases his expressive touch. There are three other notable numbers which reference the early days of jazz and even farther back. Miles’ re-adjusts the 1920s Tin Pan Alley oldie, “There Ain’t No Sweet Man That’s Worth the Salt of My Tears,” which Bix Beiderbecke did with Bing Crosby and Paul Whiteman, and was rediscovered by Diana Krall (it can be found on the singer’s recently issued offering, Glad Rag Doll). Miles states “I transcribed the real chords, but then I worked on it for a long time to orchestrate it with more modern chords.” The result emphasizes an underlined blues quality but reduces the Roaring Twenties mannerism. Frisell’s guitar sound nods to Charlie Christian, and Miles’ various trumpet passages bring to mind Lester Bowie. Another relic from the flapper era is the Duke Ellington vehicle, “Doin’ the Voom Voom,” where Miles adroitly echoes the characteristics of James “Bubber” Miley, the trumpeter who worked with Ellington during his Cotton Club years. The most interesting interpretation is a Scott Joplin piece, “A Guest of Honor” (penned to commemorate Booker T. Washington’s 1901 visit to the White House). Apparently no one has ever heard this as written, since Joplin’s score was lost. However, given Joplin’s nature, we can assume it had some of the syncopated ragtime feel which imbues Miles’ conception, which Miles also explains is a tribute to his son, Honor. “A Guest of Honor” is an appropriate conclusion, since it wraps together Miles’ purposeful intentions to fuse historical foundations with an inclination for contemporary forms.
TrackList: Bruise; Queen B; Mr. Kevin; There Ain’t No Sweet Man That’s Worth the Salt of My Tears; Just Married; Doin’ the Voom Voom; Days of Wine and Roses; Rudy-Go-Round; Guest of Honor.
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