June 20, 2024


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CD review: Ron Miles – Rainbow Sign 2020: Video, CD cover

Denver’s Ron Miles, the well-loved cornetist and educator, is making his debut on the iconic Blue Note label on Oct. 9.

Cornetist and composer Ron Miles makes his Blue Note debut with Rainbow Sign, the deeply affecting follow-up to his widely acclaimed 2017 album I Am A Man, which reconvenes the same remarkable band featuring pianist Jason Moran, guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Thomas Morgan, and drummer Brian Blade. The album is a set of nine new original Miles compositions including the striking first single Queen of the South, a piece Miles says was informed by Ethiopian pop. Miles wrote most of Rainbow Sign as his father was passing away in the summer of 2018. “I became more of a caregiver to him,” he says. “I was so happy that we made it all the way around, and that he was able to know before he passed just how much he was loved.” That’s why the album feels so endearing: it scores the journey from Earth to eternal peace.

“Rainbow Sign” is a sprawling, magisterial 70 minutes of music that captures numerous complex moods, illuminated by Miles’ lonesome, singular tone. And the band he utilized for the project represents the finest in jazz: guitarist Bill Frisell, pianist Jason Moran, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Brian Blade. Like Miles, they’re as capable of conveying subtlety as they are virtuosity.

It’s a brilliant album, one of his most accomplished among multiple releases on nearly as many independent labels over the last 30 years.

“It was pretty surprising,” Miles told me about the Blue Note signing. “We just made the album (without a label in mind) and Bill (Frisell) asked me if he could play it for Don Was (Blue Note president.) A couple of days later, Don asked Bill for my number. It’s not like they were looking to sign some old guy from the middle of the country! Don is a fan of music.”

The music on “Rainbow Sign” often extends beyond the boundaries of straight-ahead jazz and blues structures. Often, the chord changes are reminiscent of those used in rock and pop, including the songs “Queen of the South” and “The Rumor.”

“Songwriting is still pretty mysterious to me,” Miles said. “When there’s something emotional going on in my life, the songs start pouring out.”

The motivating factor behind much of what you’ll hear on the album stems from the passing of Miles’ father, Fay Dooney Miles, in October 2018.

“I was looking back on the journey of dealing with his journey; letting him know how much he was loved by us, and to take care of him in a respectful, loving way. Even when he passed, I was happy to get there on time.”

There’s a sense of empathy projected in this music that’s all too rare, and while Miles is the leader of the date, this truly sounds like a band effort. Frisell takes numerous borderline-twisted solos throughout, and Moran’s individuality shines through on “Custodian of the New.” It must be frustrating, then, that this group currently can’t tour to support the album.

“We had some plans to get out there and play. I’ve talked to everybody on the regular. I hope we can turn this around in the next year or so,” he said.

For the time being, Miles continues to teach as a musician in residence at Denver’s Metropolitan State University.

“They’re having small combos meet twice a week. It’s pretty spread out,” he said, laughing.

1. Like Those Who Dream (15:56)
2. Queen Of The South (4:20)
3. Average (11:12)
4. Rainbow Sign (7:09)
5. The Rumor (4:31)
6. Custodian Of The New (7:49)
7. This Old Man (6:57)
8. Binder (6:02)
9. A Kind Word (5:57)

Ron Miles cornet
Jason Moran piano
Bill Frisell guitar
Thomas Morgan bass
Brian Blade drums

Ron Miles Releases Blue Note Debut, Rainbow Sign

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