Ron Carter has been one of the most prolific musicians in jazz for more than 50 years, working within nearly every conceivable configuration (his press bio says he’s appeared on 2,500 recordings). But, for whatever reason, the big-band format had largely evaded him until recent years. The release of Ron Carter’s Great Big Band (Sunnyside) in 2011 marked the first time the bass icon led a big-band session of his own on record, and not until now has Carter concentrated on working up his own material within the larger format.
He couldn’t have chosen a group better suited for the outing. Germany’s WDR Big Band has long been Europe’s go-to outfit for jazz artists in need of large-scale support, and here the organization brings rich coloring and expansive body to Carter’s work. The bassist has never been particularly showy, preferring to serve as a team player, and Rich DeRosa’s robust arrangements take that into account, spotlighting WDR’s own considerable virtuosity without allowing any individual to dominate-even Carter. His acoustic bass is clear and strong throughout, both during the orchestral sections and solo turns, but this never becomes the Ron Carter Show.
“Blues for D.P.” (which, he explains on the deluxe edition’s bonus DVD, is for pianist Duke Pearson) is one of few numbers on which Carter chooses to solo, and even then it’s economical and brief, falling in after a spot featuring trombonist Shannon Barnett. “Wait for the Beep,” which closes out the DVD, is more typical-and lyrical, dynamic and subtly swinging-with memorable solos from flugelhornist Andy Haderer and guitarist Paul Shigihara. As it nears its conclusion, Carter, alone, plucks no more than a few single notes. We wait for a full solo but it never arrives. There is nothing more he needs to say.