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Ron Carter: All Blues

John Kelman By

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In the 1960s and 1970s, few bassists were as ubiquitous as Ron Carter, from the experimental post/free bop of trumpeter Miles Davis's 1960s quintet to straight-ahead swing with guitarist Kenny Burrell and the greater extremes of saxophonist Archie Shepp. With the emergence of CTI Records, Carter became something of a house bassist for the label; on the recent four-CD retrospective box that launched CTI Masterworks, 2010's CTI Records—The Cool Revolution, the bassist appears on no less than 29 of its 39 tracks.

Given his wide-ranging musical interests, Carter's discography as a solo artist remains more than a little curious—largely right down the middle, though he does place himself in a more prominent position as a soloist and melodist. The introduction of his piccolo bass—a smaller upright that, tuned a fourth higher than its lower cousin and, thus, sitting somewhere between double-bass and cello— giving him an instrument capable of taking the lead and remaining undeniably a bass, while occupying a range more appealing to ears of a larger listening public that often had trouble hearing the lyricism of the original low-end instrument. Carter introduced the piccolo bass on Blues Farm, his 1973 CTI debut, but that more pasteurized date was far less successful than its follow-up, All Blues, just a few months later.

Rather than working with the larger cast of characters he did on Blues Farm, Carter sticks with a small core ensemble. Drummer Billy Cobham—himself a somewhat ubiquitous presence on the label—was proving already himself as versatile and far-reaching as Carter, though this particular session is as mainstream as it gets, with Cobham demonstrating a grace and elegance unexpected from the powerhouse fusion drummer of the original Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Still, mainstream needn't imply that this mix of four Carter originals, Miles Davis' iconic title track, and one standard, "Will You Still Be Mine?," is anything resembling safe, as Carter delivers the Matt Dennis/Tom Adair/Paul Weirick chestnut as an overdubbed bass/piccolo bass feature, closing the album on an unexpected note.

While pianists like Herbie Hancock brought a combination of impressionistic flair and propulsive funk to his CTI dates, and Bob James began his trip down a road to the smooth jazz of later years with Fourplay, Sir Roland Hanna brought a firmer sense of tradition to the relatively few CTI sessions on which he participated. Swinging hard on Carter's opening "A Feeling" with characteristic economy, his a capella intro to the bassist's balladic "Light Blue" is the epitome of simple truth; his touch and subtle dynamics more definitive than embellishment and bravado could ever be.

The bulk of the album features saxophonist Joe Henderson, his improvisational élan balancing Hanna's sparsity. Unlike later versions of "All Blues" that would often run at a faster clip, Carter's version here takes it considerably slower than the Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959) original, and everyone contributes to its relaxed vibe, especially Henderson's behind-the-beat phrasing and Hanna's measure voicings.

Another winner in the CTI Masterworks series of remastered reissues, All Blues proves there's plenty of room for exploration, even in the middle of the mainstream.

Track Listing: A Feeling; Light Blue; 117 Special; Rufus; All Blues; Will You Still Be Mine.

Personnel: Ron Carter: bass, piccolo bass; Joe Henderson: tenor saxophone (1, 3-5); Roland Hanna: piano (1-5); Billy Cobham: drums and percussion (1-5); Richard Tee: electric piano (3).

Title: All Blues | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: CTI Masterworks

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