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August 20, 2013 5:35 pm
Ron Carter’s exquisitely detailed chamber jazz evolves through shaded textures and pointillist riffs, shifting rhythms and an unerring sense of time. It shimmers like fine crystal, each facet reflecting an element of a past that has ranged from avant-garde to urbane funk and from gritty blues to anchoring Miles Davis’s 1960s acoustic quintet. And though each gig is a double-bass masterclass, this is never at the expense of the trio’s internal balance.
The bassist launched his drum-free trio in 2003, and their clean lines and attention to detail have been rightly praised ever since. This return gig at Ronnie Scott’s featured original guitarist Russell Malone and new pianist Donald Vega (founding member Mulgrew Miller died from a stroke in May). Vega’s lighter tone was made more brittle by an over-bright PA. The Latin root is stronger – Vega was born in Nicaragua – but the voicings remain subtle, the lines are as clean as ever and, impressively, he made the freshly rehearsed sound like second nature.
The long single set opened with the fugue-like complexities of “Laverne Walk”, took in ballads, bossas and the blues, and closed with a swinging “Soft Winds”. Carter was imperious and supple in support. He conjured attention-grabbing solos from beautifully crafted walking lines, melodies re-worked from the common stock and his own tricks – even the full-neck slurs and multiple plunkings had a strictly musical function.
Musically, though, the trio are a band of equals with a distinctive group sound and strong solos, a cappella interludes and lightning-fast trades. Russell Malone’s guitar resonates with the amplified tones of a bygone age – at times it invoked ghosts of the original 1940s Nat King Cole Trio – but the lines are more contemporary and diverse. And he is a terrific rhythm player, whether shading Vega’s piano harmonies, laying down a driving four to the bar or strongly strumming classic bossa on “Corcovado”.
New arrival Vega grew in stature, and, with the elaborately arranged “My Funny Valentine”, delivered a mid-set highlight of sombre introspection and uplifting swing. Towards the end, Vega, now unaccompanied, rhapsodised on pianist Cedar Walton’s composition “Fantasy in D”. It was a moving and subtle tribute to the American, who had died earlier that day.
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