[JPL] At 70, Jazz’s Ubiquitous Free Agent Still Has Miles to Go

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Fri Jun 29 17:01:45 EDT 2007

June 29, 2007
Music Review | JVC Jazz Festival
At 70, Jazz’s Ubiquitous Free Agent Still Has Miles to
Long ago, the JVC Jazz Festival started programming
its concerts by formula. Perhaps for that reason,
Wednesday night’s show at Carnegie Hall, built around
the bassist Ron Carter, felt familiar. It was a
quadruple-decker, with some of Mr. Carter’s old
friends of high repute, as well as his two current
bands, and the straw occasion for it was his 70th
birthday last month. 

Though he’s better known as a sideman than as a
bandleader, Ron Carter is important to jazz; at this
point he can be given full-dress reconsideration
without any excuse. It’s just that this festival is
birthday-crazy. The familiar feeling could have been a
result of Lee Konitz’s 80th-birthday show two days
before, or an anticipation of Nancy Wilson’s
70th-birthday concert still to come. But there was
also the memory of a Herbie Hancock JVC Festival
concert from last year, which was set up similarly,
running from duets to full-band performances,
including some of the same musicians.

In Wednesday night’s show, the audience was treated to
Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock:
three-fifths of the mid-’60s Miles Davis Quintet. Mr.
Carter is the most stolid of the three, but whenever
two or more of these musicians convene, their playing
shines with a mischievous energy, a sense that they
are creatively breaking rules to make themselves

It didn’t quite take flight. With the drummer Billy
Cobham making it a quartet, the group played Miles
Davis’s “So What,” and Mr. Hancock’s exquisite
accompanying figures — in every bar he seemed to be
turning harmonies freshly upside down or inside out —
were muffled by either the room’s acoustics or Mr.
Cobham’s clattering figures. Too quickly, they turned
into “Seven Steps to Heaven,” at too fast a tempo.

“Stella By Starlight,” a careful duet for piano and
bass, put some clarity in the situation, but then “All
Blues,” with the whole quartet, made it fuzzy again.
The musicians put in some alterations — for four-bar
stretches, they modulated up a whole step or
double-timed the rhythm — but these nice little ideas
grew stale in repetition, and even Mr. Shorter’s
thoughtful solo brought no revelations. 

One of Mr. Carter’s best recent bands is a drummerless
trio with the pianist Mulgrew Miller and the guitarist
Russell Malone, and that group played a bright set,
constantly revolving itself to thrust a different
player forward. Its arrangement of “The Golden
Striker,” a simple and beautiful piece written by John
Lewis for the Modern Jazz Quartet, left enough open
space to allow Mr. Carter’s firm, rhythm-pushing
notes, and his surprising harmonic choices, to really
be heard. 

Mr. Carter’s duets with the guitarist Jim Hall were
bumpy but intermittently strong, especially on “Body
and Soul,” where the imagination and economy of each
musician’s accompaniment matched any of the soloing.

The final act was Mr. Carter’s current quartet, with
Stephen Scott on piano, Payton Crossley on drums and
Rolando Morales-Matos on percussion. It’s an adequate
but low-key band, and at times the music felt
frustratingly distant, lacking a basic urgency. But in
the middle of “Joshua,” Mr. Carter broke out with an
unaccompanied bass solo — “Willow Weep for Me,”
another song entirely — and he transformed it, with
slides and octave jumps and blues language.

At the end of each set, Mr. Carter handed each player
a silk handkerchief as a thank-you, each one a
different color. He gave the last one, bright red, to


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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