Ron Carter at Ronnie Scott's
Neil McKim heads to the UK's most famous jazz club to hear one of the world's most famous jazz bass players
Arguably one of the most recognisable jazz tunes of recent times – thanks to an early-’90s revamp by UK jazz-rap band US3 – is Herbie Hancock’s ‘Cantaloupe Island’ with its catchy piano-driven rhythm and incisive Freddie Hubbard trumpet.
Their new ‘Cantaloop’ version helped uplift Blue Note sales, kick-starting a huge demand in the label’s back catalogue. I recall going into record shops and having difficulty getting hold of original Hancock releases but within no time the shops were flooded with CD reissues.
That all said, what’s sometimes overlooked in the original is its bass line, resonantly anchoring the whole thing down. And this, of course is provided by the legendary Ron Carter, now 73, who along with Hancock is famous for his work in Miles Davis’s Quintet in the mid-1960s.
I recently caught a live set from Ron Carter at Ronnie Scott’s – the two Ronnies as it were. Although it’s a different club since its 2006 refit – I miss the smoky atmosphere and being able to lean against the cushioned bar rail – it still maintains its jazz club atmosphere, if a bit on the pricey side.
Carter was performing with his Golden Striker Trio, appearing with pianist Mulgrew Miller and guitarist Russell Malone and playing a mix of material from the 2003 Golden Striker album, along with straight-ahead jazz standards. ‘Band leaders have two things to look forward to,’ he announced to the attentive sell-out crowd; ‘the band has to wear the same colour tie as the leader and the leader can choose one of the leader’s favourite songs.’
His favourite song in question was 'My Funny Valentine' which beautifully built-up with piano and bass chords. The entire evening was a showcase of bass technique, with harmonic string splits, thumb-strummed chords, and effortless bass runs, at times compensating with percussive emphasis for the lack of a drummer. But there was no excessive showmanship.
The sharp-suited trio held the audience in rapt attention throughout. The highlight was his final track… ‘My name is Ron Carter and here is “Blues for DP”’ – DP being the hard-bop piano legend Duke Pearson, with whom Carter played back in the 1960s. This stunning four-in a bar blues showed Carter on top form as he paid tribute to one of his early contemporaries from Blue Note’s heyday.
Neil McKim is production editor of BBC Music Magazine