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The idea for Laughing Barrel, the title of trumpeter Ron Miles' latest CD, comes from the writings of Ralph Ellison, the great African-American author. According to Ellison, an enslaved man, when he had the urge to laugh (strangely forbidden fruit for these poor souls), would put his head in a barrel to muffle the sounds of the soul-soothing treat.
Music thenas it does nowalso eased the pains of the soul. Field hollers, spirituals, the blues...jazz. And now the Ron Miles Quartet's Laughing Barrel, a perfect soul-soothing/soul energizing follow-up to last year's Heaven, with guitarist Bill Frisell.
Heaven offered low key, lyrical, serene sounds, most memorable for a couple of unlikey tunes (for a "jazz" disc): Hank Williams' "Your Cheatin' Heart" and Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain' A-Gonna Fall." Listening to these songs, you would suppose Ron Miles to be a gentle soul, centered, low key and focused. On Laughing Barrel Miles fleshes out the sound with a quartet. The trumpeter has a lyrical (there's that word again), breathy delivery on the opener, "Parade" that takes up where Heaven left off.
Miles wrote all the tunes on this recording, and the highlight for this listener is "Psychedelic Black Man," featuring some of Brandon Ross's talking wah-wah guitar that sounds like Jimi Hendrix in a laid back mood. "Jesus Love Me" whispers to life with the rhythm section, then Miles blows in, assured and ethereal at the same time, with Rudy Royston and Anthony Cox (drums and bass) churning along, leading into a tangy guitar solo and a partial deconstruction toward the free end of the spectrum. Ron Miles, who has a real affinity for playing with guitarists, dances around the electric string work.
Lyricism, serenity, some heat at times, and reactive spontaneity... Laughing Barrel is a perfect follow-up to Heaven.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.