By Don Heckman
Ron Carter made one of his far too rare Southland appearances Saturday night in a CAP UCLA performance at Royce Hall. His quartet starred in a long show that also included an extended set by the Robert Glasper Trio.
As the most recorded bassist in jazz history, it would be hard to find a significant jazz artist that Carter hasn’t recorded with. But it’s equally fascinating to hear him in action in a musical setting of his own. His adventurous musical ideas have been on display in dozens of recordings under his leadership. And the group he brought to Royce – with pianist Renee Rosnes, drummer Payton Crossley and percussionist Rolando Marales-Matos – offered an intriguing view of the many colors in Carter’s musical palette.
His musical choices were far ranging — from Brazil to Miles Davis to some compelling stops in between. One of the most unexpected was a Carter solo version of “You Are My Sunshine,” a remarkable display of his mastery of the bass, both as an instrument and as the voice of his improvisational imagination.
Another memorable moment traced to a lovely exchange between Carter and the always-imaginative Rosnes on “My Funny Valentine,” heightened by a passage featuring her Chopin-tinged embrace of the melody.
From a completely different perspective, much of what the Carter Quartet played was delightfully illuminated by Marales-Matos vast array of hand (and beyond) percussion. Which he used to produce every imaginable percussive sound, from tiny snips, clicks and rustles to rushing roars and rumbles. Add to that the stirring rhythmic lift of Crossley’s approach to the jazz drum kit.
To Carter’s credit, he clearly recognized the uniqueness of what Marales-Matos and Crossley had to offer, and freely allowed them to make their unique contributions to the music. The result was yet another entry in the colorful catalog of Carter groups.
Pianist Robert Glasper, opening the show with his trio – with Derrick Hodges, bass and Mark Colenburg, drums – has been receiving rave reviews from much of the jazz critical community. For the most part, the praise has been related to his efforts to blend his far-reaching jazz chops with an interest in various pop, rock, rap and hip-hop elements.
One could argue whether there’s any real compatibility in that mélange. But what seemed more compelling to me about the Glasper trio was the virtually symbiotic interaction between the three players. The piano trio has had many manifestations in jazz – some more successful than others. And the Glasper trio is doing a convincing job of expressing their own vocabulary in a still-evolving fashion. It will be worth watching – and listening – over the next few years to hear how effectively Glasper, Hodges and Colenburg translate that vocabulary into a significant entry in the evolution of the piano jazz trio.
Photos courtesy of CAP UCLA