Ron Miles
Ron Miles © Elliot Ross, 2020

American cornet specialist Ron Miles titled his last collection of prickly themes I Am a Man after Martin Luther King’s address to Memphis sanitation workers in 1968. The track “Revolutionary Congregation” implied hot-blooded polemic was on the cards, but, eschewing the obvious, Miles focused on clean lines, close-knit interplay and an understated pulse.

His poised follow-up album, Rainbow Sign, featuring the same exemplary high-end quintet, develops this approach. Once again, the Denver-based composer delivers spiky lines with a brittle cornet tone, guitarist Bill Frisell and pianist Jason Moran merge textures and line, and bass and drums add extra layers underneath. 

Miles wrote the core components of this intriguing set towards the end of his father’s life. The album’s opener “Like Those Who Dream” was composed just before his father entered a hospice; the remaining compositions followed in a sustained creative burst. The music was then fine-tuned and recorded over a single weekend in New York, and the result is a series of gently undulating soundscapes laden with filigree detail and bursts of individual expression. 

Album cover of ‘Rainbow Sign’ by Ron Miles

The long first track begins with scratches, scrapes and the woody tones of Thomas Morgan’s bass. Two minutes in, drummer Brian Blade settles the pulse, Miles spins fragments of the blues, and the piece unfolds over a kaleidoscope of riffs, strums and whines. The unison theme of “Queen of the South” comes next, a gentle hum-along rocker that sounds pre-composed, and then “Average”, an elongated ballad with resonant tones and moods maintained by a single note.

The swapped phrases and steamy rhythms of “The Rumor” follow, and then the syncopated twist of “Binder” harks back to the early days of modern jazz. In contrast, “This Old Man” delivers muted cornet melancholy, “A Kind Word” rocks softly, and both play out with a broil of piano and guitar.

The title track comes mid-set. Here, the theme is puckish and momentum is maintained by walking bass amid a balance of optimism and doubt.

★★★★☆

Rainbow Sign’ is released by Blue Note

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