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Ron Carter Foursight Quartet at Cadogan Hall (EFG LJF 2023)

Ron Carter Foursight Quartet
(Cadogan Hall. November 2023. EFG LJF. Review by AJ Dehany)

Ron Carter. Drawing (Wolff’s Carbon and chalk on paper) by Hamley Jenkins

There’s a philosophy to bass playing. If Albert Camus was a goalie, a supportive role with room to dream, mission critical but usually in the background, it follows that, as Ron Carter says, “The bass player is like the quarterback, leading the band – and the audience – exactly where they want them to go.” His powerful but elegant sound is such a defining one in jazz that it can be hard to appreciate just how much of his invention the ‘jazz sound’ itself is, just as when you hear Bill Evans you have to remind yourself that cocktail jazz isn’t really his fault— he’s just that influential, but in a background way.

Eighty-six years young, with over two thousand collaborations and sixty albums as a bandleader, he’s such an effortlessly cool guy, and a sense of friendship underpins the “Foursight” Quartet of drummer Payton Crossley, tenor saxophonist Jimmy Green, and pianist Renee Rosnes. Their mutual respect extends to the audience, and what they do has a sense of hard bop nostalgia that tends to leave boundaries unbent but delivers a really tasteful (definitely in a good way) and satisfying experience for all. The superiority of the musicianship is understated and only by comparing it to any number of ‘straight ahead’ jazz gigs you might have endured can you really realise how good it is. Carter himself traces the philosophy back to Miles, whose second Quintet Carter helped to define: Simply, “Play the music well.”

It’s all warmly collegial on the first of two sold out dates at Cadogan Hall, on date ten of a twelve night tour. The set is fluid but settled and familiar from the double sets of the Stockholm Tapes recorded live in 2018, opening with the softly meditative “595”, and seguing smoothly through stalwarts including “Flamenco Sketches”, “Seven Steps to Heaven”, and “Joshua”. Even Ron Carter’s softly spoken addresses and dedications are largely word for word, with the same enduring dedication to Richard Davis, a friend who “made the bass do something different.” Carter’s main solo bass spot still begins with “You Are My Sunshine” and takes in a bit of the Bach cello preludes that are the beginning of his musical career back in childhood as a young cellist. He got into bass because classical music was slyly segregationist but a transfer to the bass meant they had to call him up.

“Christmas is not too far away,” he says. “I have a gift for you.” Letter by letter he spells out, a new immersive online discography. It’s a fantastic legacy to explore. The Foursight Quartet perfects a particular strand in that legacy, but I’m glad there’s more. And not just in the past. This weekend the quartet plays Monte-Carlo Jazz Festival with a special appearance from Marcus Miller, which is an arresting and confusing thought: how would that work? Ron Carter is one of the most complete bass players that has ever lived; and he doesn’t even particularly stretch out on extended techniques, pedals and soundboards, or the grandstanding of a Jaco Pastorius for example. 

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For all its tastefulness, the Foursight Quartet are not risk averse players, and in their collegiality they can thrillingly mix up fast playing on the slows and slow playing on the fasts, and dive between tempos between walking bops and luminous and lovely ballad playing with complete assurance. “My Funny Valentine”, derived from and often associated with Carter’s time with Miles, is exemplary: simple and melodic, accumulating colour and richness until it almost melts. The philosophical definition of “Play the music well.”

AJ Dehany writes independently about music, art and stuff.

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