Ron Carter Nonet: Eight Plus

Surprise is at the root of Eight Plus (Dreyfus), a session by the matchless Ron Carter originally recorded in 1990. As its title implies, the album features a nonet, which is no surprise in and of itself. What’s unexpected is Carter’s instrumentation: standard rhythm section plus cello quartet, with Carter upfront on piccolo bass. The results are unconventional mainly with regard to timbre; Carter’s pizzicato work on the piccolo (which is half the size of a double bass, and tuned a fourth higher) pierces the ensemble’s luminous accompaniment like a needle through satin. The problem is that the album’s only other soloist is pianist Stephen Scott, and he rarely takes more than a fleeting chorus (and seems uncommonly reserved even then). There’s no way around the fact that bass solos grow tiresome over the course of an album, even when the soloist is a master such as Carter. So although the string arrangements are well executed and the ensemble acquits itself nicely to its leader’s tunes, Eight Plus falls short of a strong recommendation.