Ron Miles, without making a bunch of loud, weird noises, has become one of the most eloquently unique trumpet players of the last twenty years. This Denver, Colorado bred and based trumpeter and composer has a dialect on his horn similar to the unembellished, thoughtful approach of Dave Douglas with a tone that sometimes recalls Lester Bowie, only softer. He’s brought it successfully into a variety of settings within and outside jazz, but his upcoming trio record Quiver featuring Bill Frisell might be the purest essence of Miles’ artistry.
Miles’ association with Frisell goes back a ways, who likewise grew up in Denver: Miles was in Frisell’s mid-90s quartet (appearing on Bill Frisell Quartet in 1996) and 2002′s Heaven is credited to Miles, but is virtually a duet record with the guitarist. On that album, Miles’ nimble exploitation of space and airy textures lined up perfectly with Frisell’s own prowess in that area. A very intimate record, it draws you in not by somersault licks or heavy riffs but direct articulations and low-pitched, grounded sentiments. These songs aren’t even really “jazz,” they’re unsung folk tunes, closer in spirit to all those Otis Taylor records Miles had appeared on.
Quiver is an extension of Heaven, in a sense. Frisell carries over, and so does Miles’ spacious, glowing strains, most of which came from his own pen as before. But Quiver adds another virtuoso, drummer Brian Blade, to the mix. Furthermore, the energy and tension of playing three of these tracks live in front of a crowd was included, helping to make Quiver, though subdued overall, possess a confident virility quietly expressed.
Blade is not a luxury on this album, he’s essential: a nuanced drummer of his caliber was needed to make the rhythmically jagged “Bruise” work, for example. The breezy sophistication on display here sets the tone for the rest of the album, though in different approaches. “Just Married” (Youtube below) is the lone song carried over from Heaven. Blade transforms it with a joyful, second-line rhythm, sometimes only implied, that Frisell grooves all over. Quiver‘s liner notes author Chip Stern calls the performance where “country music and blues share a glorious two-step.” The blues is delivered in a different way with “Rudy-Go-Round,” which at times goes harmolodic.
Amongst Miles’ modernist originals are a couple of covers from the 1920s. Miles and Frisell perform a prescient lazy blues on “There Ain’t No Man Worth The Salt Of My Tears,” but not before Blade sculpts tonal shapes from his mallets. Duke Ellington and Bubby Miler’s “Doin’ The Voom Voom” recalls the playful side of Ellington, especially his early years, and it’s highlighted by Blade trading fours with Miles and Frisell. One more cover, “Days of Wine And Roses,” finds Miles and Frisell caress the opulent melody, in sequence. Miles penned “Guest Of Honor”, but he did so keeping Scott Joplin’s ragtime on mind. Blade plays a brilliant, quasi-military pattern underneath the plainly played chords.
Ron Miles brings in the big guns for Quiver, but most importantly, he knew how to use them to bring the best out of songs and covers that were seemingly written for them, at least the way they’re arranged here. As for Frisell, the consummate sideman who helped Lee Konitz stay vital well into his eighties pairs once again with arguably the Bill Frisell of the trumpet to make more great, uncategorizable music, this time with a big assist from Brian Blade.
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: As with the first Floratone, Frisell cedes some creative control on Floratone II with guys he trusts, and once again, the trust pays off in a Bill Frisell record that he couldn’t have quite have done on his own.]
Quiver goes on sale October 9, by Enja/Yellowbird Records.