The title of Ron Miles’ Blue Note debut can be linked to a trio of influences—the Carter Family classic “God Gave Noah the Rainbow Sign,” James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, and the Book of Revelation—but the story of its sounds is tied most directly to the topic of family. Focusing on music composed while the cornetist was caring for his ailing father in the summer of 2018, and showcasing the same close-knit quintet that delivered his sociopolitical masterpiece I Am a Man a year before that, Rainbow Sign offers varicolored visions that explore the weight and beauty of relationships.
As they delve into the emotional impact of losing a parent, Miles’ musical fraternity—guitarist Bill Frisell, pianist Jason Moran, bassist Thomas Morgan, and drummer Brian Blade—stands for honesty and integrity. If down-home modernism defines the day, as it does on the swinging title track and “Binder,” this crew relishes the opportunity to embrace that wonderfully paradoxical notion without a touch of irony. And when the music takes a somewhat nostalgic turn, in places like “The Rumor,” respect rules the moment without putting a damper on acts of dynamic expression.
Fantasy figures prominently into the album’s opener—the sprawling, morphing “Like Those Who Dream”—but clear realities serve the rest of the set well. “Queen of the South” coolly confesses loyalties to both understatement and Ethiopian pop. “This Old Man” speaks to the simpatico relationship Miles and Frisell have developed over the course of nearly a quarter-century’s worth of collaborations. And “A Kind Word” carries the album to its positive, spiritually powerful conclusion.Originally Published