By Frank Alkyer | Published December 2017
Cornetist Ron Miles is one of the most amazing accompanists in jazz. Whenever his name comes up in conversation, musicians who have played with Miles hold him one part in awe, two parts in inspiration, three parts in respect. The same holds true for Miles as a bandleader, as evidenced by his latest release, I Am A Man. It’s a recording of thought-provoking beauty in overdrive. The title (and cover art) is taken from the artist Glenn Ligon in a piece called Condition Report (2000). The music, like Ligon’s artwork, takes on the social chaos of the times. “From the beginnings of black American music, there’s been a sense of triumph over adversity,” Miles said in press materials for the release. “We’re in some trying times in 2017, that’s for sure. But we’ve seen this before. Black folks have had to do this over and over again, fighting injustice and finding a positive solution.” For Miles, that solution is to bring together a group of stellar artists—guitarist Bill Frisell, drummer Brian Blade, pianist Jason Moran and bassist Thomas Morgan—to play music from the heart, full of blues, grit and sass. The title track is a quirky blues, full of interplay. “Darken My Door” was written after Miles had a dream about his future mother-in-law; it speaks to the insecurities we all have when entering a new family. “Revolutionary Congregation” was written in honor of religious figures who also served as political heroes, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Gandhi. “Mother Juggler” is a love song for Miles’ mother, and all mothers. But my favorite track on this album is the closer, “Is There Room In Your Heart For A Man Like Me,” which begins with a eager, pleading bass solo by Morgan that helps convey the humble, heart-on-the-sleeve tone of the question posed in the song’s title.