Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Ron Carter Trio at Nyack Library's Carnegie Room : November 11, 2012

Ron Carter photo by Ralph A. Miriello c 2012

Once again the vibrant Rockland County Jazz and Blues Society has proven its ability to attract world class talent to the small but sophisticated community of Nyack, NY and greater Rockland County. As part of their jazz concert series, that is run in conjunction with The Soiree Society of the Arts and The Nyack Library. Artistic Director Yashar Yaslowitz and the R.C.B.& J. Society’s President Richard Sussman, continue to surprise with some killer talent in marvellously intimate concerts. The Carnegie Room is an especially appealing venue for both the artists and their audiences. The warm,  oak trimmed setting, with its' turn of the century charm, has wonderful acoustic properties that make for special moments.

On this evening, the venerable bassist Ron Carter, celebrated as one of the most recorded jazz bassists of all time, came to Nyack after an admitted thirty year absence. Mr. Carter recalled once playing a now defunct venue that was a part of this Hudson River community decades ago. He was joined by his trio with guitarist Russell Malone and pianist Donald Vega. Mr. Malone played a sunburst Gibson L 5  through a small amp, Mr. Carter played a beautifully burnished what appeared to be ¾ size bass and Mr. Vega was seated at the beautiful black grand piano, a gift generously donated by Yamaha, to this series and the room.

Mr. Carter is a classically trained musician and is an accomplished cellist, as well as a master of the upright acoustic bass. He is a composer of some note as well as an unusually perceptive improviser.  If ever there was a person whose stature and appearance so typified his instrument it would be  Mr. Carter. Elegantly dressed in a handsome tailored suit and tie ( his trio mates were similarly attired),  despite a hoarse voice-the remnants of a cold, Mr. Carter, at seventy-five years young, appears to be in remarkably fit condition. His tall, lean figure embraces the upright bass as an equal. His slender willowy fingers caress the classic lines of his instrument, while at the same time fly fleetingly over its long black fret board with a dancer’s agility. He projects a cool, confident demeanor. There is a sense of intimate familiarity with his instrument, a serenity that only comes from years of practice and performing.

The performance opened with a composition by guitarist Russell Malone titled "Cedar Tree," a tribute to the pianist Cedar Walton. The song has Mr. Carter opening with a pedal-like bass line that allows both Malone and Vega to explore on the groove before it bridges into a scalar form that remind me of “Giant Steps.” Malone’s guitar has that classic Gibson sound, born in the era of the guitar/ organ trio. Mr. Malone cut his teeth with organist Jimmy Smith. His smoothness, that transcends single note playing, makes it seem like his  notes melt together.  He effortlessly moves from chordal work to rapidly executed single note arpeggios. I caught flourishes of George Benson’s  “On Broadway”  during his solo work.  Mr. Vega is a sensitive pianist with a feathery touch. He is of Nicaraguan descent and his story is compelling having studied, when necessary, on a cardboard keyboard to keep in practice when a piano was not available.
Donald Vega, Ron Carter and Russell Malone  photo by Ralph A. Miriello c 2012 

The group covered "Laverne’s Walk" and "Candle Light" both Carter originals that featured some beautifully evocative bass work . His signature style combines slurring, bending, sliding and sustaining notes all used to great effect.  His pizzicato technique is tonally impeccable and he often uses octaves and strumming techniques that are more frequently associated with the guitar than the bass. The only technique he didn't employ on this evening was his arco. All the while the quiet but effective Mr. Malone watched Carter’s movement carefully, adding quick chord strums or single note lines at appropriate times. The simpatico between these two artists was extraordinary.

Mr. Vega occasionally seemed to be the odd man out. His playing delicate, almost Evans-like, with a wonderful floating touch on the keyboard. When the two string players went off to the races it seemed like Vega had a hard time keeping up with them. On parts of  “My Funny Valentine”  there seemed to be a momentary break in communication between Mr. Vega and Mr. Carter.  Carter tried to play in between Vega's lines, but eventually stood down to let Mr. Vega play solo, as they seemed to be going in different directions.

The first set ended with Fletcher Henderson’s’ “Soft Winds “ where Malone settled into rhythm guitar, sometimes providing a bongo like beat, as he tapped his muted strings and the hollow body of his guitar to create the pulse. Later he would play the strings in such a way as to elicit a banjo-like strumming sound that had a Django-like feel.  Mr. Malone's guitar voice has clearly absorbed the tradition with vestiges of Django, Joe Pass, Herb Ellis, Wes Montgomery and George Benson all being present in his own unique voice.  Mr. Carter quickened the beat sending the song into a rapid double-time as he and Malone carried it to a frenetic tempo. Mr. Vega did his best to fill in the voids with a flurry of single-line notes that he had to execute at a ferocious pace. He occasionally employed double handed block chording to great effect. The audience was left in arrhythmic delight and they received a standing ovation.

After a somewhat lengthly intermission the group returned with two Carter originals, "Eddie Theme" and "Parade." Mr. Vega shinded on "Eddie's Theme" as Mr. Carter gave it an Afro-Cuban ryhthm with plenty of room for Mr. Vega to solo using his clave inspired percussive runs on keyboard.

Mr. Carter immediately delved into the next tune, a solo rendition of "You Are My Sunshine"  which was a veritable tutorial of how sensitive a bass can be.

The band completed the second set with a redux of Henderson's "Soft Winds."  It seemed as if Mr. Carter wanted to give Mr. Vega another bite of this apple. Mr. Vega, now fully warned up, rose to the occasion handily providing his own blistering runs over Mr. Carter and Mr. Malone's rollicking romp. The night cap of the evening turned out to be a pleasing finale sending the audience into a sustained standing ovation.

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