‘Ancestral Spirits’, the latest release from tenor & soprano saxophonist Bob Miles is ultimately a fine CD, but it’s one of those CDs that may have to grow on you over several sittings. Miles is a saxophone player with a very unique sound and approach to soloing. Miles plays with a sharp, edgy tone which, when you hear the first few notes, comes across as a combination of the sounds of Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson - two of the greatest saxophonists of all time. But that’s about as far as the comparison goes. Stylistically, Miles is nothing like Rollins or Henderson - or anyone else that I’ve ever heard, for that matter. Miles plays with an unusual (and inconsistent) vibrato that I initially found quite irritating. In addition, the lines he plays during his solos tend to consist largely of broken rhythms, jagged melodies and dissonant harmonies.
However, in spite of all that, this is a CD that I grew to appreciate over the 12-15 times that I sat down and listened to it. Part of the reason for that is Miles’ band. Sharing the horn duties is Eddie Davis on trumpet, a monster player of enormous talent and a very pure, straight-ahead approach to jazz. The rhythm section is just as formidable and boasts (alternately) John Robertson and Louis Heriveaux on piano, Edwin Williams, Tarus Mateen and John Ormond on bass, Sumari Celestial and Woody Williams on drums and Ramadan Mumin (aka Tony Waters) on percussion. You couldn’t ask for better support than this, but they aren’t the only reason that I eventually grew to like this CD. As I listened to the CD over and over again, I believe that I began to get a feel for the statement that Miles is trying to make as a musician. I began to listen with an ear that went past the notes and into the heart and soul of the music. I suppose it’s always a challenge, when experiencing music that is presented in an unconventional form, to go beyond one’s personal expectations of how it should sound to get in touch with the spirit of what the musicians are trying to express. But I think it’s usually worth the extra work, and this CD is a clear example of that.
There are a total of 8 tunes on this album, of which all but one were written by Miles (the remaining track was penned by Davis). Miles is a much more traditional composer than he is a soloist, and he’s written some nice tunes here - mostly ballads and relaxed mid-tempo numbers with simple structures and hum-able melodies.
In summation, I recommend this CD not only for the adventurous jazz fan but for any jazz fan that is open-minded enough to want to experience the unique perspective of a talented musician like Bob Miles.