By Michael Katz
There were plenty of reasons to celebrate Friday night at the Jazz Bakery. For starters, there was the return of proprietor Ruth Price, back hosting the music with her trademark effervescence for the first time since a December auto accident. For another, there was the news she shared that the Bakery, whose lease runs out at the end of May, has no shortage of suitors for a September return. Best of all was the all-too-rare appearance of bass legend Ron Carter, who led an all-star trio featuring pianist Mulgrew Miller and guitarist Russell Malone before an appreciative capacity crowd.
Mixing in a few standards with selections from their 2003 album, The Golden Striker, the trio was a mix of virtuosity and blended elegance. They opened with Malone’s Cedar Tree, which featured Miller and Malone volleying seamlessly, Carter content to lay back and set the tone. Things heated up on the second tune, unannounced, but with the familiar bass line of Carter’s 12 x 12 from his Pastels album. Carter began with the extended bass solo, then handed off the spotlight to Mulgrew Miller. Miller has a linebacker’s physique, and hunched in front of the Bakery’s Steinway, made it look almost like Schroeder’s piano. But he has a deft touch, with graceful riffs along the higher octaves, supplemented by Russell Malone’s rhythm guitar. The two alternated solos, then conceded the spotlight to Carter.
Cool and elegant, his body contoured to the instrument, the fingers on his left hand scurrying over the neck of the bass like a tarantula, Carter is both a visual and musical delight. His soloing has a robust tone, recalling his compositional themes from signature tunes such as Parade, which he played later in the program.
Russell Malone, meanwhile, exhibits the full range of his guitar, from rhythm accompaniments to his soulful, sometimes funky solos. Most breathtaking, though, are his ballads. Possessing a muted tone to begin with, Malone has a circular style that builds emotionally to a stunning, harp-like effect.
Carter, who once teamed memorably with Miles Davis, introduced My Funny Valentine as one of his favorite tunes. He provided a lovely counterpoint with Miller’s pensive, haunting melody. Malone picked up the tempo with his own riffs, then handed it back to Miller, who added a quote from Summertime before closing it out.
It was altogether fitting that the trio ended with John Lewis’ Golden Striker. It has the precise, chamber jazz quality that characterized the MJQ, yet easily lends itself to the free-swinging qualities of the individual musicians, in this case highlighted again by Mulgrew Miller. The finale was met with a standing ovation, and the hope that Ron Carter doesn’t wait another Olympiad before returning.
The Ron Carter Trio also performs tonight (Saturday, Mar. 28) at the Jazz Bakery.