Monday, August 6, 2018

I'd Love to Turn You On #211 - Ron Miles – Witness

Most Denver jazz fans have heard of Ron Miles, and if you haven’t you're in for a treat. Witness is his second record and it was released in 1990 on Capri Records. It features compositions by Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Billy Strayhorn, fellow bandmate Fred Hess, and two original compositions by Ron Miles. The band is made up Denver jazz veterans. It features Ron Miles on trumpet, Fred Hess on tenor saxophone and flute, Art Lande on piano, Ken Walker on bass, and Bruno Carr on drums. This band has respect and command of the jazz tradition, and that respect and command of tradition frees them to be exploratory and adventurous within the framework of both standards and originals.
Art Lande starts out the song “Witness” with a beautiful chordal variation of the theme on piano. He is then joined by Ken Walker on bass for a more straightforward statement of the theme. The drums then join in a march feel, and the horns of Miles and Hess state the melody in full force. The piano is the first to solo, showing immediately that it is not just a straightforward blowing session by establishing a percussive rhythmic bed using an extended piano technique. Moving from decisive single note lines to clusters and chordal stabs, Lande summons the rhythm section into action. As they activate beneath him the entire feel starts to pick up energy and move from a march to a swinging, dynamic ball of 4/4 energy fueled by Bruno Carr and Ken Walker. The group then switches back to the march feel for the beginning of Miles’s solo. Miles starts out by quoting the melody but then runs into a series of melodic flurries. The main melody is never far from his improvisation. As Bruno Carr moves into a rhythmic motif on his tom toms under Miles, the trumpet player suspends tones while the tension builds. There is a certain sense of wondering if the rhythmic direction will again be pulled back to swing but the listener is drawn in as Miles stretches out dissonant tones and textural flurries. Bruno Carr hammers away on the toms maintaining the energy. Lande responds with interjections and clusters as Walker provides tonal and rhythmic anchors. As the solo ends the melody is restated for the exit out. I’m always captivated by the joyousness of this melody.
“Ugly Beauty” is a waltz by Thelonious Monk. It starts out with Fred Hess playing the melody on the flute. Miles is the first to solo and he has a gentle approach featuring large melodic leaps. Miles makes technically difficult passages sound elegant and graceful, which is a testament to his mastery of the trumpet. The next solo by Lande and Hess includes tandem flurries, playfulness, questions and answers, all within a format and structure. This displays a great concept of a duel solo, or two people occupying a space typically reserved for one individual.
“Just Like You (I Don’t Want To Be)” starts out with a unison horn head at blistering pace. It moves thru some free form soloing by Miles and then Hess before it enters an interesting composed hit-and-silence structure that replaces a traditional harmonic framework. This solo framework is expanded upon and fleshed out with an additional melody over the stop time. Miles takes another solo over this new texture, and the original melodic statement is then played again. Bruno Carr takes a solo at a ridiculous tempo and then the melody is played one last time. The structure of the song provides for a great contrast to other tracks on the CD. The untraditional structure of this song highlights the strengths of the group. They are creative enough to follow and explore where the music takes them and able enough to adeptly lead themselves back to the predetermined rallying points. A highly original tune by Ron Miles with some interesting compositional devices.
“A Flower Is A Lonesome Thing” starts out with a solo statement of the melody. The experience of the group really shines in this performance. It is as if they are playing not so much in the expected places but around them. Bruno Carr’s brush work is amazing. Lande’s comping is excellent, whether he provides direct harmonic support, answers solo statements, or provides antecedent statements. Miles’s solo begins in the upper register and descends into a playful skirmish before settling in at the bridge. A double time hint by Carr sends Miles into a final flurry of activity before he settles his solo. Lande follows by beginning his solo with some dissonant block chords before moving into single line question and answer statements. This falls briefly back to a chordal statement, followed by just a glimmer of swing before Miles is back in at the bridge to play out the melody.
“Pithecanthropus Erectus” is a Charles Mingus tune. The band lays down some heavy harmonic pads from which they can contrast further playing. This is a hard swinging tour de force take on this this tune with spirited solos by Hess, Lande, and Miles. Bruno Carr and Ken Walker are holding down the groove solidly while Lande hammers out chords. Hess takes a feisty solo which falls way to a free horn duet after which the tempo ratchets up quite a bit. Lande then churns out a technically commanding and harmonically explorative solo that eventually reinstates the original tempo and groove. Miles then begins his solo calmly but works it to a raging storm. The band then plays the melody out.
The final track on the record is “Our Time” by Fred Hess. It is a spritely, upbeat, technical number. Fred Hess is playing flute, Ron Miles is playing muted trumpet, and Bruno Carr once again shows off his masterful brush work. Ron Miles takes a couple of excellent spins thru the challenging changes and then he is joined by Fred Hess for an interlude, after which Hess speeds into a solo of his own. Ken Walker then takes a solo and shows why he is known as one of the top bassists around. He nimbly executes a solo over the challenging changes before Lande takes a quick chorus. Then we have a round of trading bars of four between Miles, Carr, and Lande. After this the interlude is cued and the melody is played out.
One of my favorite ways to enjoy this CD is to pick a particular player and listen to how they choose to interact with the ensemble. I think each one of the players has an exceptional ability to generate and stay true to an idea, or conversely, support another band member’s idea. All of the playing seems in service to the music. One of my regrets is that I didn’t see this band around this time, I’m not sure if I knew of Ron Miles then. Then again all these gentlemen, with the exception of Bruno Carr who passed away in 1993, can be seen in and around Denver. If you don’t have or know of this CD I’d Love To Turn You On to it - and go see so these guys live! You won’t regret it! In addition, please check some of Ron Miles’s other works. His original compositions are truly great and he has many more records to enjoy.

-         Doug Anderson

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