Ron Carter Quartet
February 22, 2019
You are the "World's Greatest Jazz Bassist," as a sign used to say at The Knickerbocker Saloon in New York City, where you and Cedar Walton
held forth for many years. You have been at the top of your profession for sixty years, becoming the most recorded bassist in history along the way. Your bottom end musical offspring abound: since Kennedy was president, everyone who has wanted to play double bass in a serious jazz context has had to go through, under, over or around your sound and style.
You are Ron Carter
, the man with the delicate hands and surefire fingers who plucks and coaxes that deep, rich, syncopated sound out of the upright bass, always right in time. You are 81-years-young and you are playing a weekend of mid-winter gigs at Regattabar
, The Charles Hotel's jazz club in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After more than 2,000 recording sessions and countless gigs, it would be understandable if you phoned the late show in and faked it, right?
When discussing the all-time greats of the art form, it is always tempting to recount their illustrious associations, especially when that all-time great plays bass, the role of which is to anchor the collective bed of sound upon which genius can spring. For Ron Carter those geniuses include Dexter Gordon
, Bill Evans
, Wes Montgomery
, Tommy Flanagan
, Eric Dolphy
, Freddie Hubbard
, Jaki Byard
and Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
, to name just a few. From 1963 to 1968, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock
and Tony Williams
made up the fabled rhythm section for the Miles Davis
quintet with Wayne Shorter
on tenor saxophone. In 1981, Carter reunited with Hancock and Williams to tour and record with a young Wynton Marsalis
True artistic greatness takes more than building up a legendary reputation. True greatness requires "now-ness," relevancy, currency, "what-have-you-done-lately?" Otherwise, the artist risks becoming stale oreven worsea caricature. The young guns from Berklee and other local jazz outposts came to Regattabar to see if Ron Carter is still Ron Carter
after all the years anchoring all that music for all those legends.
The answer, that night, was a resounding "yes!
" The music oozes out of this virtuoso's hands the way a river flows downstream. Ron Carter is the Bill Russell, Michael Jordan, Lebron James (choose your era) of the jazz low-end. That night, we were privileged to be in his company.
The generous ninety-minute late set gave everyone who braved the New England chill a night to remember, demonstrating that Ron Carter is indeed still king of his realm. Liquid, tricky, stolid, fluid notes flew like perfectly spiraling footballs into the audience's collective grasp. But even a Hall of Fame quarterback needs gifted teammates, and that night Carter took the field with three formidable players who deserve shoutouts in their own right.
Dynamic drummer Payton Crossley
has been answering Carter's call for over a decade. His tenure on jazz bandstands, however, goes even further back to his early days as a prodigy playing gigs at the age of 12. Along the way he supported Nina Simone
, Stan Getz
and Hank Jones
. His presence behind the drum kit is powerful and his control of time is impressive. Whether it was ballads or blues, bassist Carter and quicksilver Crossley locked in and created unforgettable rhythmic beds for the keyboard and tenor saxophone.
In both appearance and playing, Renee Rosnes
exudes elegance and style. A first-call pianist with impeccable technique, her quiet chording can echo Bill Evans, her harder banging can suggest McCoy Tyner
and her solo runs sparkle and dance, while this consummate Canadian master sounds like no one but herself. Like Crossley, her years with the Ron Carter quartet can be counted in double digits, squeezing in dates with the bassist when not recording and gigging with her own outfit or backing other jazz masters. Jimmy Greene
is also known as "Dr. Greene" to his students at Hartt Music School at the University of Hartford. In the past, he has been known as "Big Jimmy Greene," which may refer as much to his sound on the sax as his height. Greene has also unfortunately become known as the father of Ana Márquez-Greene, one of the nineteen children murdered in December, 2012, at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. To remember Ana and celebrate his daughter's life, Dr. Greene has produced two powerful albums under his own name. At Regattabar, one did not need to know Jimmy Greene's personal story to feel the deeply spiritual side to his playing and to bask in the fire of his huge sound.
The Ron Carter quartet is touring widely this spring. It would be wise to catch them while they are in their current fine form.
Photo Credit: Mark Robbins