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Ron Carter: When Skies Are Grey

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When Skies Are Grey is the newest addition to the series of albums that Carter began in 1961, when he first recorded under his own name. Like its dozens of predecessors, the album has an unmistakable character that arises from elements central to his music: a unique melodic-harmonic language; unhurried musical story-telling to engage the listener; and what Jaki Byard called Carter’s “brilliant time, tone and technique” as a bassist. Byard might have added a fourth: taste. Despite his concentration on developing a career as a soloist, Carter has never seemed interested in substituting decoration or grandstanding for substance.

This is not an album in which he lifts the listener by the lapels and dazzles him with technique, but it is, without question, the product of virtuosity. In a time when great bass playing is often equated with something akin to gymnastic skills, Carter continues simply to play the instrument perfectly in all of the dimensions on Byard’s list. As he has since before he became famous as a member of the Miles Davis Quintet of the early 1960s, he finds new ways of applying his mastery of the bass not only in solo but also as one of the great rhythm accompanists. With Davis, his combination of technical excellence, knowledge of chords and rhythmic flexibility made him the connection between the barely controlled exuberance of drummer Tony Williams and pianist Herbie Hancock’s harmonic adventuring. They quickly became one of the great rhythm sections in modern jazz.

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