Of all the alumni from Miles Davis’s 1960s quintet, Ron Carter is the one who has most fully embraced the tradition in his subsequent career, looking back at and refining styles which were superseded by that group’s radical innovations.
This Ronnie’s gig was a case in point, with the bassist at the helm of a piano-guitar-bass trio, a configuration made popular first by Nat King Cole and then Oscar Peterson. But as he reminded an enraptured full house, his music remains no less distinctive or spell-binding than any of Miles’s other sidemen.
Even when flanked by two of America’s first-call instrumentalists — pianist Mulgrew Miller and guitarist Russell Malone — the bassist’s tall, graceful figure, occupying the centre of the stage, commanded attention throughout. Each note was caressed from his instrument with warmth and near-faultless intonation, while his unerring sense of time was often mesmerising. This is a musician who has appeared on literally thousands of recordings, yet whose sense of adventure appears undimmed, whether selecting notes for a walking bass-line or during the hallmark glissandos scurrying triplets and Bach quotes from his solos.
Over two set consisting largely of ballads, bossas and mid-tempo swingers (‘My Funny Valentine’ and ‘Soft Winds’ were the most obviously recognizable standards), Miller and Malone provided support befitting of their super-sidemen status. During the interval I was surprised to learn from one pianist more in-the-know than me that Miller had recently suffered a stroke; thankfully that didn’t really appear to affect his performance, which included some dazzlingly eloquent solos and characteristically tasteful comping. Malone’s clipped sound and bluesy licks may not be to all tastes, but what really impressed was his dynamic sensitivity and how he locked perfectly in step with Carter to almost hypnotic effect at a few points.
In a recent radio interview for BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Library, Carter told Alyn Shipton, “I don’t think we play it backwards in terms of the way guys used to play…it would be difficult not to get upset if someone said, ‘Hey man, that’s old music!’”. I doubt anyone in this Ronnie’s audience would level that accusation at him after he had made such a compelling case for his approach being just as vibrant and relevant to the twenty-first century as any other.(Photo: Dino Perrucci)