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Ron Carter's Great Big Band: Ron Carter's Great Big Band

Dan McClenaghan By

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Bassist Ron Carter rode to high profile during his stint with trumpeter Miles Davis' second great quintet, the stellar mid-1960s ensemble that also included pianist Herbie Hancock, drummer Tony Williams and saxophonist Wayne Shorter—all of whom, like Carter, went on to create great things. Carter also used the opportunity afforded by the Davis boost to become something of a super side sideman, appearing on hundreds of albums led by an array of fellow artists, as well as dozens of his own, including the outstanding small group efforts Golden Striker, (Blue Note Records, 2003), and Dear Miles (EMI, 2006).

Carter has never led a big band outing, until now. With charts by esteemed arranger Robert M. Freedman, Carter leads a seventeen-piece ensemble through a set of jazz standards on Ron Carter's Great Big Band, from the much-covered Duke Ellington vehicle, "Caravan," to trumpeter Tom Harrell's "Sail Away" and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma."

Carter put out an excellent small group outing this millennium, When Skies Are Grey (Blue Note Records, 2001). The cover art—a photo of a grey clad, regal-looking Carter gazing over a drab cityscape at overcast skies—had a limited color spectrum, and the music leaned toward the serious side, as much of the classically-trained Carter's art does, but Ron Carter's Great Big Band is a bright, colorful experience, from the rainbow-ish cover art and the dancing sparkle of W.C. Handy's "Saint Louis Blues," to the joyful ebullience and New Orleans tinted cover of trumpeter Nat Adderley's "Sweet Emma" and the pastel elegance swirling over the trombone section's dark backdrop on the bassist's own "Loose Change."

The band's drive train—the rhythm section of pianist Mulgrew Miller and drummer Lewis Nash, along with Carter—is as solid as they come. Carter's bass rides higher in the mix than is normally heard on a large ensemble set---a big, warm, inexorable heartbeat inside the flash and cool washes of brass and reeds.

"Footprints," penned by Carter's former Davis cohort, Wayne Shorter, and included on the saxophonist's Adams' Apple (Blue Note, 1966) as well as Davis' Miles Smiles (Columbia, 1967)—on which Carter played— maintains its ominous mood here, with splashier harmonics afforded from the multiple horns, while John Lewis' "The Golden Striker" gets a jaunty, upbeat treatment.

Like saxophonist Joe Henderson and his outstanding Big Band (Verve, 1997), Carter has taken his first shot at leading a large group later in his career, and he's produced a gem with Ron Carter's Great Big Band.

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