Circuit Rider Trio Credit: John Spiral

Few figures in jazz operate with as much refined comportment, melodic grace, and measured spontaneity as Denver cornetist Ron Miles. He’s quietly but forcefully risen in the global jazz scene due to his thoughtfulness, lyric grace, and communal spirit, which have attracted an ever-widening coterie of top-notch collaborators. Late last year he joined guitarist Mary Halvorson and Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier for New American Songbooks Volume 1 (Sound American), where he applied his broad technique in surveying a mix of classic and new standard rep by the likes of Fiona Apple, Gary Peacock, and Duke Ellington. And among his most dedicated colleagues are guitarist Bill Frisell and drummer Brian Blade, who play in his trio, Circuit Rider, which is named after the title of the group’s 2014 album. Together they move with cool sensuality, three unspooling strands of burnished melody in a gentle riot of polyphony. Miles writes with open ears that have absorbed jazz’s interactive tendencies with incredible depth. Those qualities are reflected in the material he doesn’t write, too: Circuit Rider’s versions of “Jive Five Floor Four” and “Reincarnation of a Lovebird” by Charles Mingus retain the bassist’s multilimbed ebullience if not the wild drive, and their take on Jimmy Giuffre’s early chamber classic “Two Kinds of Blues” brings a moody heft missing in the original. His own pieces reach beyond jazz to reflect an ardor for vintage country, gospel, and other Americana. Last year the three musicians provided the backbone for one of the strongest albums of 2017, I Am a Man (Yellowbird/Enja), a quintet LP with pianist Jason Moran and bassist Thomas Morgan that featured original compositions by Miles. Its friction-laden, propulsive title piece references the Memphis civil rights protests of 1968 that were sparked by the deaths of two black sanitation workers; the phrase “I am a man” became an iconic slogan among workers demanding dignified treatment. The music rarely uses the shapes and drive of familiar postbop—it almost exists outside of jazz even though jazz tradition fuels its multidirectional splendor.   v