A few years ago, cornetist and composer Ron Miles managed what I consider something of a hat trick. He played on, and helped define, not one but three extraordinary jazz albums — all of which landed on my year-end best in 2017.
The finest of the three was I Am A Man, featuring Miles at the helm of an all-star band with guitarist Bill Frisell, pianist Jason Moran, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Brian Blade. The same enlightened personnel is set to return for a follow-up, Rainbow Sign, due on Blue Note Records on Oct. 9.
A first single from the album, “Queen of the South,” is available today for download and on streaming services. Though it may not be obvious on first listen, Miles was inspired to write this piece by Ethiopian pop music. (Left unsaid is the specific era of his reference point, which could certainly include the likes of Mahmoud Ahmed.)
While there was a noble sociopolitical motive on I Am A Man, Miles drew from a different well on Rainbow Sign. He wrote most of the songs on the album after the death of his father in 2018. “I became more of a caregiver to him,” he reflects, in a press statement. “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.”
The trademark warmth of Miles’ sound, and the pastoral beauty of his compositions, give that familial bond a clear shape. And the musicians on the album are ideally suited to this sound. Two of them, Frisell and Morgan, happen to have just released a trio album on Blue Note with drummer Rudy Royston, one of Miles’ longest musical associates. Titled Valentine, it inhabits a similar tonal sphere.
Rainbow Sign will be released on Oct. 9 on Blue Note; preorder here.