For a trumpeter so fluent in the language of pure jazz, Ron Miles seems to gravitate toward the places where the genre fades into other things. This quality, along with his aptitude for striking melodies and a singing tone, has made him an able partner for fellow eclectic Bill Frisell.
Despite a modest string of notable recordings as a leader, it's his work with Frisell for which Miles is still best known-so not surprisingly, Heaven, his first recording for his new label, wisely banked on that association. On his second CD for Sterling Circle, Laughing Barrel, Miles does his own thing, exposing some of the impressive creative range he's shown in the past and putting himself squarely in the center of things. Key in this regard is the recruitment of guitarist Brandon Ross, a player with strength and flexibility but not Frisell's often intractable force of personality. With Ross and the game rhythm section of bassist Anthony Cox and drummer Rudy Royston on hand, Miles' personality builds a force of its own.
Central to Miles' music is the superior melodic sense and pithy improvising he brings to every tune. Here, Miles also shares with Frisell a general predilection for rich, sunny music occasionally undercut by a sinister or ominous gesture, as when bop takes an acerbic turn on "New Breed Leader." From there, the warm and deftly constructed Laughing Barrel ranges widely, taking in soul-jazz and funk ("Psychedelic Black Man"), undiluted country ("Sunday Best") and even nuanced pop ("Parade")-all of it all bearing the trumpeter's indelible stamp.