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Ron Miles Quartet: Laughing Barrel

Mark Corroto By

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The concept of jazz has seemingly always been an urban phenomenon. From Louis Armstrong’s move to Chicago to the post-war Charlie Parker revolution—and more recently, Wynton Marsalis’ uptown vs. downtown music debate—jazz concepts and jazz sounds have traditionally gravitated toward cities.

But inside jazz itself, traditions are continuously rewritten. As the music has spread across the non-urban country, sometimes through academia, the metropolitan effect is felt less and the diversity of folk, rock, Latin, Asian, and well, insert your favorite music, are assimilated into jazz making.

Trumpeter Ron Miles, a native of Denver, Colorado, has been playing jazz on his own terms—creating his own language—for quite a while. Like the Iowan Charlie Haden or West Coaster Bill Frisell, Miles’ music can have an urban sound; it just doesn’t start there. His latest outing, the quartet recording Laughing Barrel, follows up his duo session Heaven with Bill Frisell (Sterling Circle, 2002).

Where Heaven projected a relaxed atmosphere, this disc picks up the intensity. Miles’ Quartet includes the Hendrix-meets-jazz guitarist Brandon Ross (Cassandra Wilson, Harriet Tubman, Henry Threadgill), drummer Rudy Royston and bassist Anthony Cox (John Scofield, Joe Lovano, Bobby Previte)—all of whom are equally comfortable tearing it up or playing unplugged. On Laughing Barrel the quartet does a bit of both.

The disc opens with his signature earthy sounding “Parade” that showcases Miles’ lyrical trumpet playing. Throughout this recording, Miles creates music that draws listeners in from backgrounds other than jazz. Like the tune “Sunday Best,” with Ross switching to acoustic guitar and Royston handling brushes, Miles finds the swing in folk music. Same with “Psychedelic Black Man,” where hippie beats power Ross’ space guitar wah-wahs, there’s Miles maintaining his sweet tone as if to say this jazz boat has room enough for all. As a working quartet these players have the room to stretch Miles’ compositions. Miles’ nod to post-bop, “New Breed Leader,” has the band cooking through some classical bop changes and Miles showing off his best Freddie Hubbard playing, before Ross takes a searing jazz-meets-messy-rock solo. On “Jesus Loves Me,” an extended blues, the melancholy tone that begins the track finds resolution in determined muscle.

Maybe Laughing Barrel was made for rural America, but I bet our friends with concrete front lawns can dig it too.

Sterling Circle Records


Track Listing: Parade; New Breed Leader; Psychedelic Black Man; Still Small Voice; Jesus Loves Me; Sunday Best; Fairy Court.

Personnel: Ron Miles

Title: Laughing Barrel | Year Released: 2003 | Record Label: Sterling Circle


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