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Ron Carter and Russell Malone at the Museum of Modern Art

Ron Carter and Russell Malone at the Museum of Modern Art

Courtesy Paul Reynolds

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Carter provided as reliable a musical foundation as ever, with his warm fat tone and talent for engaging, sometimes extended, solos wonderfully intact.
Ron Carter and Russell Malone
Museum of Modern Art
New York, NY
May 28, 2024

"This is really something. I thought maybe 15 people would show up," Ron Carter said in modest surprise as he scanned the massive crowd that packed the sculpture garden at the Museum of Modern Art—and even spilled over into MoMA's lobby, with people pressed against the floor-to-ceiling windows behind the stage to see and hear.

Carter was an inspired choice for the occasion—a members-only event to mark the launch of MoMA's new podcast on the history of jazz shows in this iconic outdoor space, with its serene detachment from the buzz of midtown Manhattan. .

Jazz has had a presence—albeit an intermittent one—in the garden for more than six and half decades. Carter, who turned 87 in May, 2024, first performed in the space in 1965, and returned in 1995.

For the newest installment in his unofficial 30-year cycle of MoMA shows, Carter went small—in the form of a duo with guitarist Russell Malone. Though not billed as such, the set was essentially a tribute to the late Jim Hall, the guitarist with whom Carter frequently performed, especially in the '70s and '80s. Almost all the selections were drawn from the three duo albums Hall and Carter recorded together.

These renditions were anything but clones of the recorded performances. Compared with Hall, Malone swings more emphatically and is less inclined to lyricism and harmonic complexity. Malone made the pieces his own, then, and yet at times skillfully evoked Hall's subtle style. The best example—and Malone's best performance—was on "Candlelight," the gorgeous Carter original that the bassist recorded with Hall on their 1985 live duo album, Telephone (Concord). Malone built the piece masterfully, using rapid alternations and slower reflective asides to provide variety and sustain interest.

Much of the rest of the one-hour set comprised standards, also drawn from the Hall-Carter recordings. The selections included "St. Thomas," with a nod to Sonny Rollins in Carter's introduction, as well as "All The Things You Are" and "Alone Together."

Carter provided as reliable a musical foundation as ever, with his warm fat tone and talent for engaging, sometimes extended, solos wonderfully intact.

This was quiet music that the closely packed audience received with respectful attention—that is, until about 40 minutes into the hour. The volume of talking then rose to nearly drown out Carter and Malone—including, disappointingly, from a huddle that included a chatty young woman who sported a MoMA staff badge. Let's hope her indifference to the music was an outlier, and that the museum's leadership considers restarting a program of jazz performances in this superlative space.

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