Ron Miles + Bill Frisell and Brian Blade – Circuit Rider (2014)

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Ron Miles, a discreetly insurgent musician, is back with a little help from some notable friends. Following up on the well-received live souvenir Quiver, the Denver cornetist reconvenes his trio for the studio successor, Circuit Rider (October 14, 2014 by Enja/Yellowbird Records).

This, of course, is no ordinary trio; joining Miles again are guitar god Bill Frisell and drum god Brian Blade, perfect companions for a leader who only uses jazz as a starting point for his music, but typically ends up in a place not easily classifiable. It oddly feels comfortable, anyway.

Ron Miles’ frequent collaborations with Bill Frisell make sense from the standpoint of their shared Denver heritage, their fondness for melodies that sound simple (even when they aren’t), and the skill of getting a musical message fully across with no more notes than necessary. But in this trio, Miles is also capitalizing on what Marc Ribot calls is Frisell’s ability to “translate the pianistic harmonies Bill uses onto a six-stringed instrument.” The guitarist is filling in the piano role for Miles’ trio and does so like no other guitar player can. Blade was eventually added to supplement what was first a duo, but he can quickly locate the myriad of implied rhythms in each song and tease them out without being domineering about it.

Ultimately though, the thing that stands out on a Ron Miles record is Miles’ tone. It’s a lonely, wandering tone and his signature appears right at the commencement of the first track “Comma.” It partially obscures Frisell’s unsettled, gurgling thoughts before Frisell moves into a more hopeful tone, undertaking the harmony role to Miles’ roving lead lines; Blade just follows the uneven flow with uncanny accuracy. That pure tone also graces “Dancing Close And Slow,” a country ballad with a charmingly lazy gait.

Miles reels off a long, unbroken sequence of notes in medieval fashion for the title track, and Frisell repeats the feat amid the stilted rhythms of Blade. “The Flesh Is Weak” contains some of Blade’s typically sublime patter. Miles and Frisell meander their way through the melody prior to the guitarist settling into a repeating figure that gives the opportunity for Blade to loosen up and release.

The recycled songs offer another window into Miles’ musical interests. Whereas Quiver suggested an appreciation of the earliest jazz, Circuit Rider culls form the catalogue of two of the most innovative jazz conceptionalists from the 50s and 60s. “Jive Five Floor Four” (which was later titled “Free Cell Block F, ‘Tis Nazi USA”) is one of two Charles Mingus tunes heard here, lean and a little funky; smatterings of Blade’s limber second-line beat can be heard behind Frisell’s effortless rendering of Mingus’ not-so-straightforward melody. Miles and Frisell are able to abstract enough of the basic components originally recorded for a large band to capture the song’s swinging essence. The more familiar “Reincarnation Of A Lovebird” is reincarnated as a loose bluesy ditty with Miles and Frisell liberally trading lead roles, confirming that they know each other so well. Blade’s feel on this performance is why he’s a world-class drummer.

Jimmy Guiffre’s multiple personality “Two Kinds Of Blues” is the most straight jazz song here, containing some rare, rich octaves from Frisell, while Miles emotes in just the right measure. Midway through, Frisell signals the second melody and the mood turns a little playful before a more solemn take on the first melody ends the tune.

In leading this group of tonal and melodic masters, Ron Miles once again makes music ideal for those who savor those things served up with angularity and superb group dynamics. What else would you expect from these guys?

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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