The Iowa City Jazz Festival brings a horn player with a deep jazz vitae to the Englert stage this Friday. Cornet player Ron Miles will play alongside Whirlpool, a trio that plays improvisational jazz without a bassist, for a free late-night show beginning at 11 p.m.
Whirlpool drummer Charles Rumback said in an email that Ron Miles is one of his personal heroes, “The way he approaches the music and everything is very inspiring.”
Whirlpool came together at a tribute show for the late drum legend Paul Motian who died in 2011, then two years later, at a show in Denver, Colorado, Miles sat in with the trio without rehearsing and quickly assimilated.
“The first time Ron played with us, it felt like he belonged in the group, so I would say that Ron complements our sound even better that I even imagined,” Whirlpool saxophonist and vocalist Caroline Davis said, “He also chooses the best moments to play and uses silence to build ideas like no other musician I know.”
Rumback said, “[Miles] really has a directness to his playing that gets to the center of the music. As a band, we’ve only played with Ron a handful of times … He has an openness and even though his playing is strong, he listens so hard and is not afraid to go where the music takes him.”
Like his occasional collaborator, legendary guitarist Bill Frissell, Ron Miles is from Colorado.
To offer a bit of jazz history, Frissell played in Motian’s trio with Joe Lovano, and the trio was unique in its absence of a bass player. Decades later, Whirlpool took a similar form, going without bass or a bandleader and playing as a collaborative trio.
So, how does the trio work?
For Davis, the group’s iazz improv style is collaborative.
“Improvisation, in my opinion, is always collaborative, whether it’s between you and other people, your conscience, your environment – we interact and respond in the best way we can. It can be synchronous or asynchronous, but the main goal for me is to go with the direction of the music,” she said.
As an improvisor, Rumback said he’s interested in hearing the personality of the player come through their performance. “You can hear who they are,” he said. “It takes courage to be that open and direct at the same time. Some folks cover it up with technique or whatever, but when you really hear someone playing from their heart it is powerful.”
Runback and Whirlpool guitarist Jeff Swanson are based in Chicago, and Davis lives in New York.
As far as what listeners can expect on Friday night, Davis cited renowned sax player Steve Coleman as an influence. “I’m trying to bring that sound into some of our compositions,” he said.
In addition, Davis says Lennie Tristano, Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz are “big influences” on her improvising and writing style. “Joni Mitchell as well,” she added. “She knew how to create melismatic melodies, not necessarily catchy but still beautiful.”
Rumback says Whirlpool has been playing an Igor Stravinsky piece that Davis brought to the group and Swanson wrote a piece for their 2015 album, “Dancing on the Inside,” that features polyrhythms from Latin American music.
“We are all listening to music all the time and influences sometimes show up unannounced,” Rumback said, noting that Whirlpool has been playing an Igor Stravinsky piece as of late, in addition to experimenting with polyrhythms from Latin American music.
Listen for surprise appearances in Whirlpool’s set during the 11 p.m. free concert at the Englert Theatre on Friday, part of the Iowa City Jazz Festival.