No wonder he’s described as the most recorded jazz bassist in history.
In and Out Records IOR CD 777151-2
Ron Carter (bass); Stanley Clarke (bass); Christian McBride (bass), Bill Frisell (guitar); Russell Malone (guitar); Donald Vega (piano); Renee Rosnes (piano); Jimmy Greene (tenor sax); Payton Crossly (drums), and the WDR Big Band
Recorded: WDR Cologne, Germany 1-4 July 2014; Newport Jazz Festival 3 August 2019; Fasching, Stockholm, Sweden 17 November 2018; Blue Note, New York 2 April and 2 May 2017; The Harlem Jazz Museum 24 September 2019; Theaterstübchen Kassal, Germany 30 October 2016; Record Plant, New York 29 September 2021
Bassist Ron Carter is one of the titans of jazz and the 85 year-old musician is still active on the music scene. Carter has had a remarkable career. Although he’s best known for his role in Miles Davis’s second great quintet, which also included Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams and Herbie Hancock, he has played on more than 2500 recording sessions, with a Who’s Who of jazz artists that includes, George Benson, Wes Montgomery, Bill Evans, Chet Baker, Stan Getz and Freddie Hubbard. No wonder he’s described as the most recorded jazz bassist in history. Carter has also added his bass sound to many pop and soul songs from artists such as Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin and Roberta Flack. Impressive doesn’t come close to describing Carter’s musicianship or achievements, and his playing has inspired generations of jazz bassists.
Finding The Right Notes is a three-part project: a biography written by Dan Ouellette; a two-hour TV documentary on Carter’s life; first aired this year, and this release, described as the documentary’s official soundtrack. A more accurate description would be ‘complementary soundtrack,’ because the documentary features 36 tunes and this album has ten. What’s more, four of the performances (including a superb duet with guitarist Bill Frisell) do not feature in the documentary. That’s not to say that this isn’t an excellent release.
The documentary was filmed over six years, and the recording dates for these performances range from 2014 to 2021. Six of the tunes are jazz standards and four are Carter’s compositions. Carter plays in a variety of band configurations – duets, trios, a quartet, and with the WDR Big Band – the three WDR performances are of tunes originally recorded on the 2014 album My Personal Songbook.
The album kicks off with Carter’s swinging number ‘Receipt, Please,’ with the bassist laying down a driving pulse and the WDR Big Band’s horn section create an exciting cauldron of sound. You couldn’t wish for a more exciting start. Fletcher Henderson’s ‘Soft Winds’ is a trio performance with Russell Malone on electric guitar and Donald Vega on piano. It starts off as a gentle midtempo stroll, with the audience clapping along, before transforming into a rollicking performance that has Malone strumming furiously. Miles Davis’s ‘Flamenco Sketches’ is a quartet performance with Renee Rosnes on piano, Jimmy Greene, tenor sax, and Payton Crossley, drums. Everyone plays well, but the standout performer is Rosnes, who plays magnificently. The whole band captures the grace and elegance of the tune and it’s one of my favourite pieces.
‘Bag’s Groove’ is another trio line-up, this time Carter and Malone are joined by Stanley Clarke on piccolo bass (the first time the two bassists had recorded together). The three stringed instruments blend beautifully on this lively performance – Carter’s deep, resonant double bass complementing Clarke’s Piccolo, which is tuned at a higher pitch, with Malone’s guitar weaving between the two. At the five-minute mark, it sounds as if the band is winding down and the audience starts applauding, but they are not finished yet, as Carter goes onto play a supple solo.
‘Willow Weep For Me’ is a duet between Carter and Christian McBride, both on acoustic bass. It’s an impromptu performance and a masterclass on improvisation. The two bassists are clearly having a good time and the tune ends with a quote from ‘Here Comes The Bride’! ‘Blues For D.P.’ is another highly satisfying big band performance, as Carter’s slow, steady walking bass line underpins a busy horn section. ‘Doom Mood’ is well-titled; its menacing intro includes a horn section that sounds as if it is announcing a disaster. Carter’s playing is divine, as he busily plucks, taps and slides while the horn section showers the listener with a cascade of nervous lines.
The Gershwin brothers ‘My Man’s Gone Now’ is a stunning duet with Bill Frisell on electric guitar, both playing with much fluency, delicacy and sensitivity. One hopes there’s a director’s cut of the documentary one day, which will include the filmed performance of this tune. The fourth and final Carter composition is ‘Nice Song,’ a trio line-up with Malone on guitar and Vega on piano. It’s a gentle, melodic ballad, which at times, has all three instruments playing the head together, and at others, the guitar and piano engaging in call-and-response playing while Carter’s bass keeps everything grounded.
The closing piece is ‘Sweet Lorraine’ is another spontaneous performance, this time between Carter and the young jazz pianist Jon Batiste, who interviews the bassist about his life and music throughout the documentary. The two of them play six minutes of inventive improvisation, interspersed with whoops, sighs and verbal exchanges – it’s a lovely ending to an album that documents the sheer majesty (and magic) of Ron Carter’s bass playing.
Reviewed by George Cole