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Cornet Player Ron Miles Embraces His Pop Influences On 'Rainbow Sign'

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Our jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has a review of a new album by cornet player Ron Miles that also features guitarist Bill Frisell and pianist Jason Moran. Kevin says Frisell and Moran apply the right finishing touches to Ron Miles' quintet music.

(SOUNDBITE OF RON MILES' "LIKE THOSE WHO DREAM")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Ron Miles on cornet, shadowed by Bill Frisell on electric guitar. On Miles' album "Rainbow Sign," Frisell and pianist Jason Moran are around for more than name value. They help create the quintet's floating sense of time and add all manner of decorative details. Moran's lightly applied rock 'n' roll piano triplets on "Like Those Who Dream" are like something heard in a dream.

(SOUNDBITE OF RON MILES' "LIKE THOSE WHO DREAM")

WHITEHEAD: Ron Miles plays cornet, the trumpet's less flashy cousin, and he aims for a casual, offhand sound as if it weren't nearly as hard to play as it is. He gravitates toward the horn's middle range and medium tempos. A conversational volume level gives his playing a confidential quality. He could ride a swing groove and show off his own slippery timing.

(SOUNDBITE OF RON MILES' "RAINBOW SIGN")

WHITEHEAD: The album "Rainbow Sign" is for the same quintet that recorded Ron Miles' more pensive "I Am A Man" in 2017. Thomas Morgan is on bass and Brian Blade on drums. This new music was inspired by a heavy subject. Miles wrote it while caring for his dying father, and his understated playing can be poignant. As a composer, Ron Miles has a pop musician's love of a good melodic hook. "The Rumor" could almost be lost John Lennon ballad.

(SOUNDBITE OF RON MILES' "THE RUMOR")

WHITEHEAD: Ron Miles has said he had a breakthrough when he embraced the influence of the pop music he heard growing up before he got into jazz. One tune's hook is worthy of Burt Bacharach, whose mellow brass interludes surely left a mark on Ron Miles' cornet sound. In fact, the first time he, Bill Frisell and Brian Blade all recorded together was for a Frisell album of Bacharach and Elvis Costello songs. This is Ron Miles' "A Kind Word."

(SOUNDBITE OF RON MILES' "A KIND WORD")

WHITEHEAD: Much of the music on "Rainbow Sign" has a poppy accessibility, but it isn't quite easy listening. Ron Miles' frisky band stretches the material, lets things get a little warped. John Lennon and Burt Bacharach knew something about that, too. Pretty music that gets a little weird around the edges, that's a jazz and a pop tradition.

(SOUNDBITE OF RON MILES' "A KIND WORD")

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is the author of the new book "Play The Way You Feel: The Essential Guide To Jazz Stories On Film." He reviewed the new album "Rainbow Sign" by Ron Miles. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be Jack Goldsmith, co-author of "After Trump: Reconstructing The Presidency." The book asks, no matter when it happens or who Trump's successor is, what are the difficult questions the next president will face about the much changed presidency Trump left behind? Goldsmith was George W. Bush's assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel. His co-author, Bob Bauer, was Obama's White House counsel. I hope you'll join us.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOM SCOTT'S "SACK O' WOE")

GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Kayla Lattimore. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOM SCOTT'S "SACK O' WOE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.