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Ron Carter: Dear Miles

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The press release accompanying the advance copy of this recording contains a quote from Ron Carter: “I wasn’t ready to do an album like this before, for fear of getting swallowed up by the Miles tribute aura.” There was little chance of that. A musician with Carter’s strengths is unlikely to be lost in the backwash of anyone’s legacy. Even when he worked with Davis through much of the 1960s, Carter’s drive, tonal accuracy and imagination of line insured that the bassist was not obscured in the glare of the trumpeter’s stardom. He was the connection that secured Tony Williams’ edgy drumming and Herbie Hancock’s harmonic questing, and his power made him a presence in the Davis quintet.

This may be Carter’s first CD formally tied to the Davis mystique, but he has hardly avoided being associated with the man’s music. He was a part of the V.S.O.P. group that in various incarnations memorialized Miles. On his previous CDs he has recorded several tunes associated with his former boss, including “Oleo,” “There is No Greater Love,” “There’s a Boat That’s Leaving Soon For New York,” his own “Eighty-One” and two that appear again here, “Someday My Prince Will Come” and “My Funny Valentine.”

Carter first recorded under his own name in 1961 and gained momentum as a leader with his superb series of albums for the CTI label in the ’70s. His projects radiate his own aura of musicianship, assurance and a folksy vitality not quite like that of any other bass player. An identifiable Carterian stylistic thread runs through his compositions from early pieces like “Little Waltz” and “Einbahnstrasse” to “Cut & Paste” and “595,” the new album’s closing exercise in easy swing.

The most daring-at least the most unusual-item in Dear Miles is Carter’s and pianist Stephen Scott’s reduction of Gil Evans’ orchestration of “Gone” to a convincing piece for quartet. The only original composition in Evans’ score for the Davis Porgy and Bess album, it is a buoyant opener, thanks in great measure to the resourceful drum breaks of Payton Crossley in the arrangement and in improvisational exchanges with Carter. In most of the tracks, percussionist Roger Squitero provides color and in “Seven Steps From Heaven” a splendid solo on bongos.

A working band, this group’s intensity of interaction and ability to anticipate one another could have come only from familiarity. Evidence of their cohesiveness is everywhere in this collection. One instance: Throughout “My Funny Valentine,” Carter and Scott play off one another to such effect that even though Carter does not solo, at the end of the track the impression is that he has. It’s not that he dominates the pianist, but that he is a collaborator in Scott’s choruses.

One of the pleasures of this album is following the quotes. In “My Funny Valentine,” Scott summons up bits of “When I Fall in Love,” “Man With a Horn,” the Chopin A-flat Major Polonaise, “Cheek to Cheek” and “I Don’t Want to Be Kissed,” all with continuity, subtlety and no trace of self-consciousness. On “Stella by Starlight,” Carter manages to work in traces of “Moody’s Mood for Love,” “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be” and “The Hut Sut Song.”

Fun, games and allusions aside, Dear Miles maintains Carter’s high standard. As this reviewer wrote of When Skies Are Grey, a 2001 Carter CD also featuring Scott, “The pieces cruise along with deceptive ease, each with Carter’s impeccable timekeeping and accompaniments, his solos filled with chromaticisms, modulations, piquant interval leaps, double pedal point effects and double stops.” This is music-making at the highest level.