Jan 6 2016
A melody in the hands of Ron Miles is thick as smoke. It fills up the room with a warmth and gets deep into your lungs and you’ll feel its emotional intensity with each breath you take. All alone, with just himself and his trumpet and cornet, he’s able to generate this kind of effect, but when he’s matched with someone who is equally talented at crafting a melody… like Bill Frisell, like Wayne Horvitz… suddenly that smoke has an even greater presence when fellow collaborators are adding the spark and the kindling.
Whirlpool is melodically driven. On their excellent 2013 release, This World and One More, the trio of saxophonist Caroline Davis, drummer Charles Rumback and guitarist Jeff Swanson dove into the deep end of the melodic pool. But typical to their style of phasing in elements of post-bop and indie-rock, those strong melodies were spurred on with a determined gait. Still pretty, yes, but at times, rather bracing. They were in the service of motion, not emotion.
An impromptu live show collaboration between Whirlpool and Ron Miles on his home turf of Denver venue Dazzle led to the new studio recording Dancing on the Inside. With their focus on melody from two different approaches, every note on this album wears its heart on its sleeve, beaming proud.
“Remedies” is the overwhelming evidence of the perfection of this match. A pulsing tempo and the occasional break from structure leaves a wide open door for the quartet to slowly unroll the prettiest melody through. It’s a peaceful sigh, it’s a catchy tune, and it bleeds personality when combined with the fitful solos and the gentle curvature of the rhythm’s path. It’s a similar path adopted by “The Ocean Knows” when it takes the form of a ballad that threatens to lose its structure like a heart breaking into a thousand pieces.
This, in fact, is a nice touch on several of the songs in that way the quartet will briefly turn their back on any semblance of structure. It puts the melodic beauty into stark contrast, and when they return to that blissful state, the transition back to one of shape and form is made even more dramatic by the dissonance that preceded it. This sleight of hand isn’t anything new for any of these musicians. It’s something utilized by Miles via his membership in Wayne Horvitz’s Gravitas Quartet. Drummer Rumback shows his talents at honing rougher edges into something sharper on his Clean Feed Records recordings. And Davis has a number of projects, most notably Pedway, where roughing up the melody isn’t at all out of line.
The quartet mixes things up a bit with the straight-ahead tune “The Crew” and the pop vocal track “Right Where,” but both keep within reach of the heart of the album. “Ridges” closes the album out, and through it courses the same blood that runs through veins of tracks like “Remedies” and “The Ocean Knows.” A peaceful exhalation of melody is partnered with a tempo fond of its casual rate of speed. It’s a beautiful send-off from a beautiful album.
If this site’s Best of 2015 list were expanded out to fifty slots, there’s no doubt that this album would’ve earned itself a spot on the list. One of the best things to come out in 2015.
Your album personnel: Ron Miles (cornet), Caroline Davis (alto sax, voice), Charles Rumback (drums) and Jeff Swanson (guitar).
Released on Ears & Eyes Records.
Listen to additional album tracks on the artist’s Bandcamp page.