Jazziz November 2002 Review of
Ron Mile's HEAVEN by Ed Hazell
Trumpeter Ron Mile's quiet duets with guitarist Bill Frisell defy easy classification. It's hard to think of another album that so brilliantly offsets the tensions and complexities of jazz with the intimacy and simplicity of folk music. The whole album feels like country blues, but sounds like jazz. Frisell inserts country-music twangs into Monk;s "We See" and thick, cushiony jazz chords into Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall" to blur the lines between jazz, folk, and country.

Mile's solky trumpet often stands in for a singer. The title track, a rarely played Ellington tune, and Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain" proceed directly from his delivery of the melodies; one can sense the lyrics in his phrasing and the vocal warmth of his tone. The tunes often have the downhome charm of an informal jam between friends. But Miles and Frisell slip in witty ambiguities and abstractions on "Beautiful" and "Falsetto," as well as oblique introductions to "Your Cheatin Heart" and Jelly Roll Morton's "King Porter Stomp" that undercut the surface innocence of the music. Regardless of how you define the music, the album is modest, serene, witty, and at times, brillant.
Over the course of 12 songs (seven originals), Miles and Frisell join forces to form a moody, yet beautiful, soundscape of mellow, free form explorations. Ech musician gets to lead; sometimes Miles begins a slow groove and is joined by Frisell, while at other points Frisell's whispery guitar provides Miles with a framework for an extemporaneous jaunt.

Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rains A- Gonna Fall" is the disc's masterpiece. The instruments are paired perfectly in tonality and feed off each other. The end result is a warm, brooding and introsepective take on a song that originaly had no deep trumpet part.

Theolonius Monk's "We See" is another standout. It has upbeat ragtime echos but also permits Frisell a chance to vary the rhythm while keeping the basic melody. :"Ron Miles" and "Beautiful" are haltingly somber, yet luxuriant.

At times, the two instruments simply do not mix well. Jelly Roll Morton's "King Porter Stomp" is prue jazz (thanks to Mile's trumpet), but the guitar portion lags. Mile's "Falsetto" goes a little bit too far off track to accomplish much and Hank Williams "Your Cheatin' Heart" is unrecognizable because the guitar is trying to catch up to the trumpet.

Miles and Frisell get bonus praise for attempting something this ambitious and unorthodox. Overwelmingly, "Heaven" succeds in breathing new life into many of these tunes while allowing Miles an oppurtunity to showcase his vision as a (small) bandleader.
Review by Boston Herald Online 4/30/02


The intimate, conversational, and dare it be said, delicate nature of chamber jazz may not jibe with the brawny, macho aura that hangs over jazz as a whole, but it has exerted its charms on the music since at least the 1920s. Each subsequent decade has had its share of jazz masterworks that use restraint and understatement as their ace in the hole.

Though rarely identified in this way, Miles Davis's iconic "Kind of Blue" (1959) qualifies as a chamber jazz recording. Keeping the dynamic levels in check and encouraging lyricism over technical display -- even when dealing with such passionate improvisers as saxophonists John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley -- Davis took a winning chance on subtlety. For discriminating modern jazz players, Davis's lesson, whether consciously learned or not, has yielded significant results.

The duet is the most intimate of chamber jazz situations. On "Heaven," trumpeter Ron Miles settles in for nearly an hour of gentle music making with guitarist Bill Frisell. Gentle and at times achingly personal, yet it's never lost in the ether of its own introspection. The flinty edge that the horn man and his guest produce together keeps the project vital and free from impressionistic mistiness.

Miles and Frisell have worked together on the guitarist's own recordings over the past decade; little surprise, considering how perfectly attuned each is to the other's strengths. The serendipitously named trumpeter shares with Miles Davis a reverence for understatement: Ron Miles's strongest playing reveals itself through his simply stated yet immensely expressive melody readings. In Frisell, Miles has a soul mate as unwilling to let verbosity do the talking.

Miles also turns out to be an accomplished composer of instantly memorable tunes; his six originals have their own folksy, at times attractively melancholic, quality, but again, like Frisell, he casts his net wide when it comes to outside material. Little-played tunes by Duke Ellington ("Heaven") and Thelonious Monk ("We See") rub shoulders with songs by Bob Dylan ("A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall") and Hank Williams ("Your Cheatin' Heart"), all imaginatively chiseled down for this dialogue among equals. Frisell has expanded jazz's conception of musical Americana; Miles is another proud jazz citizen tilling the rich soil of that land.

'That's For Sure'

With the addition of Marc Copland's harmonically fertile piano to the trumpet and guitar linkup of Kenny Wheeler and John Abercrombie, the trio's "That's For Sure" has little of the deliberately stark atmosphere of "Heaven," yet the former album is another recent winning example of chamber jazz. If Copland, Wheeler and Abercrombie (occasional collaborators, but not full-time band mates) are more prolix players and utilize a more conventional swing feeling than Miles and Frisell, each of the threesome is also as acutely aware of the covert strength of speaking softly.

Abercrombie and Wheeler are highly distinctive players. The trio nonetheless realize a lovely tonal blend on the program of eight originals and one standard, lending their union a classic sheen. "That's For Sure," like "Heaven," turns down the volume, yet winds up making big, beautiful sounds.

Special to The Washington Post
By Steve Futterman
Wednesday, May 1, 2002