Ron Carter Golden Striker Trio at Jazzfest Gronau 2014

Phillip Woolever By

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Ron Carter Golden Striker Trio
Evangelist Stadtkirche
Jazzfest Gronau
Gronau, Germany
April 27, 2014

Ron Carter resumed his casual, "guy with the microphone" demeanor as bandleader for this afternoon's "church meeting," but brought a confident intensity to this conspicuously jazz conscious German community on the Netherlands border. A large, enthusiastic crowd at Evangelist Stadtkirche was well aware that whatever role Carter takes in an ensemble, his majestic upright bass stands as one of the strongest bottom lines in jazz history.

Carter and the current incarnation of his Golden Striker Trio (guitarist Russell Malone with Donald Vega on piano) played an especially satisfying, 100 plus minutes set of standards and rotating solos that reaffirmed Jazzfest Gronau's reputation for top quality programming.

Carter and crew were the festival's opening concert, and displayed their own standard, a very high one. Set up on the ornate altar of a long, wood beamed hall, quiet strength resonated from both the structure and the musicians' tools.

The group was illuminated from behind by stained glass windows as three curved panels bathed them in light, nicely emphasizing the trio theme. Visual gold had been struck, auditory pleasures were to follow.

There was a subtle sound variance, depending on proximity, in the thick wooden pews which were jam-packed in front and sparse at the back. The church's multi- chambered acoustics gave the overall sound some interesting nuances, not all good. There were moments when the guitar had a tin-like echo, and the piano got smothered a few times. Minor sound issues persisted, but got worked out for most of the show.

Instruments sometimes sounded better separately than together, but Carter's tones remained clear throughout. He flew through middle registers while Malone, a long time collaborator from the initial 2003 Striker project, plucked strings with a harp like resonance, providing smooth rhythms to run along.

At one point, it looked like Miller had to take an unexpected break, whispering something to Carter before exiting stage right. Vega downshifted and Carter stretched into a brief solo without missing a beat. Very smooth indeed.

Carter floated across the frets on "Eddie's Theme" in a carefree manner that belied the effort's complexity. Introductory song patterns got an increasingly louder audience reaction, as Carter explored a reliable catalogue of songs like "My Funny Valentine," "Parade" and "Autumn Leaves."

Sometimes "scheduled" improvisation or jamming is really just like last year's model. This tour might have been called "Revised," since the trio modified many previous takes.

The set reached a pinnacle during a revised version of "The Golden Striker" with an extended solo featuring almost ten minutes of vibrato variations, awesome in how Carter extracted bowing effects with his fingers. Carter stretched tonal themes, then returned to more basic beats and started a musical conversation that had five rows of people hanging on every staccato statement. He bent the strings, with joy, until they wrapped around the heads of everyone in the crowd.

Prior to the encores, numerous false endings drew loud ovations, as the crowd smiled more broadly every time the music resumed. Carter took a breath and wiggled his tie like a professor concluding a lighthearted lecture. Repeated bursts of extended applause were as much a tribute to Carter's entire career as to the concert itself.

Ray Henderson's "South Wind" blew the audience away, headed for home in a flurry of emotion, as hard bopping shifts in timing and tone ignited like signal fires at high tremolo tide.

Glancing at most people's facial expressions, by the end of the set they seemed to be studying each musician pretty deeply. Clichés aside, this was indeed a master class in old school composition and current swing, conducted at the highest level.

What does one get if you combine three like minds and thirty fingers in a perfectly unified balance? For those in Gronau the answer, of course; was the Golden Striker Trio. They might have been preaching to the choir today, but their playing was still a gospel truth.

Photo Credit: Hartmut Springer

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