The Golden Striker
Blue Note Records
Ron Carter has been one of the dominant bassists in jazz for over 40 years, and he has played on more than 1,000 recordings. As a bulwark of countless great rhythm sections ("Checkpoint Charlie," they called him in Miles Davis' second great quintet), Carter's presence has always been announced by the molten fluidity of his rhythmic and harmonic foundations.
Carter's stature has enabled him to sustain a career as a leader of his own ensembles, and there has been enormous instrumental and stylistic variety to the bassist's projects, from duos to big bands, from Latin to third stream. But while he almost always employs world-class players, Carter's own albums have rarely been important. They have never approached the impact of all the great recordings he has made as a sideman with artists like Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Eric Dolphy.
But two of Carter's most satisfying albums in years are his newest. The Golden Striker is a drummerless trio date with pianist Mulgrew Miller and guitarist Russell Malone, while Entre Amigos is a cross-cultural collaboration with Brazilian singer Rosa Passos. These recordings work because they leverage Carter's greatest strengths: his extraordinary propulsive intelligence in a rhythm section and his eloquence as a soloist when he fills that role selectively.
The Golden Striker is chamber jazz of a high order. The title track by John Lewis, the adagio theme from Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez and "Autumn Leaves" feature intricate arrangements, with content carefully assigned among the three instruments. The musicianship in this trio is so refined and the sharing of ideas so selfless that the transitions from the predetermined to the collectively discovered to the individual statement are seamless.
"Concierto" has become a fundamental text of the jazz repertoire. The version here is properly dignified yet fluid and nimble. Guitar and bass and piano each have their moments with the famous, hovering three-note theme. Malone's guitar sound is as silken and organic as electric instruments get, and Miller's piano is like a luminous refraction of Malone's timbres and tones. But it is Carter's dark bass that takes the most dramatic pass at Rodrigo's line.
The Golden Striker needs no drummer to swing. On pieces like the bassist's own 25-year-old composition "N.Y. Slick," he generates a unique momentum that is a Ron Carter signature: headlong, yet measured.
Entre Amigos is a quietly seductive album. It is deep in the genre of post-Jobim-Gilberto modern Brazilian music. Rosa Passos sings in Portuguese with the particular diaphanous delicacy found in no other musical culture. The breezy, floating rhythms of percussionist Paulo Braga and guitarist Lula Galvao are like a soundtrack to erotic dreams of sex without risk or exertion.
But Entre Amigos also goes beyond its genre, because Passos' airy voice also contains strength and precision and exceptional range of expression. The full experience of this music may be denied to someone who does not understand Portuguese, but Passos' ability to convey emotional nuance transcends linguistic barriers. Most of the songs are by Jobim, and it is revelatory to hear Passos' personal encounters with the most familiar ones, like "Insensatez" and "Desafinado."
Another reason that this is a very special Brazilian album is the profound, embedded presence of Ron Carter. Right at the center of this graceful, melodic music is the big beat of his bass, and it changes everything. Carter is in tune with Passos' particular cultural concept of time, but he also pulls her his way, toward a more aggressive drive. The synergies create a groove that throbs like life.