Trumpeter Ron Miles is a bit of jazz anomaly, in that he has taken to shunning the urban genres of jazz. His recent releases are all about wide-open spaces and Americana. Nowhere is this better heard than on his Sterling Circle debut, Heaven (Sterling Circle SCS 151, 2002). On this record from last year, Miles dueted with guitarist Bill Frisell, giving a quaint, homespun touch to original efforts as well as earthen treatments of Dylan’s "A Hard Rain’s A gonna Fall" and Hank Williams (the only ONE) "Your Cheatin’ Heart." The pair extended that same touch to "Stompin’ At the Savoy" and Monk’s "We See."
On Laughing Barrel Miles expands his palette by two players and composes some of the most hook-filled melodies and demanding juxtapositions in recent memory. Opting again for guitar rather than piano as a rhythm instrument, Miles picks the very fine Brandon Ross for the job. Ross provided the provocative guitar heard on Cassandra Wilson’s ground-breaking Blue Light Until Dawn (Blue Note 81357, 1993) and New Moon Daughter (Blue Note 32861, 1995). The disc begins with one of Miles’s trademark melodies on "Parade" that is as simple as clear water and fresh as spring. Straightforward and pretty, Miles teases the listener for what is to come. "New Breed Leader" begins with a swinging but edgy line that explodes into some of the best free guitar-drums jazz this side of James Blood Ulmer and Elvin Jones. The transition is gradual, but once there, the "pots on, gas on high."
The remainder of the septet of songs falls somewhere between the above two extremes. "Psychedelic Black Man" as a light Isaac Hayes groove established with Ross’s wahed guitar. "Still Small Voice" and "Jesus Loves Me" are delicate ballads for which Miles has become expert in composing and playing. This is a marvelous, highly recommended disc.