Ron Carter (above) stands tall. Approaching his seventy-second birthday, he exudes calm, statesmanlike* authority. Last night - his third and final date this year at Ronnie Scott's - his gentle art brought a completely packed club to a state of reverent, rapt attention.
A Ron Carter gig might just be the best leadership seminar some people could ever attend.
In management jargon you would call his leadership style reflective. There's a radio interview on his official site, in which he describes himself simply, modestly, as "a nice guy, a bass player with a car."
He quietly explained to the audience last night what he enjoys about running the band : you can pick the sidemen you play with, "I like them, they are also my friends," .. you pick the tunes, you write the cheques....
The band of friends which Carter has chosen consists of people with contrasting physical presences on the bandstand.
Carter himself holds centre stage, looking down. He lays down stentorian time with the bass, he holds a melodic line, he tells the kind of story which repays patient listening. Carter has all the qualities which he praises in that other father figure of the jazz bass, "Pops", Ray Brown, in the same radio interview on his official site. As with Brown, so with Carter: you feel the importance which both of them bring to the bass line, the bass sound, the bass presence.
The only other member of the quartet who stands -rather than sits- is diminutive bald Puerto Rican percussionist Rolando Morales-Matos. Surrounded by a paraphernalia of gongs, congas, bells and chimes, Morales-Matos plays the role of a hyperactive loose cannon. He jumps around rebelling against the story-line, kicking it into constant life. His culminating moment came in a routine in the final number "You and the Night and the Music," in which he did a homage to tap dancing on congas. However, any tap dancer witnessing the agility and invention of Morales-Matos' hands could well have been questioning his or her career choice.
Seated at the piano, broad-shouldered Stephen Scott has always been a genius at provoking interplay. The 90's album "Parker's Mood" with Roy Hargrove and Christian McBride was a triumph of cunning and articulate dialogue. This side of his playing is absolutely all there. But maybe the presence of Carter the patriarch forces Scott into the role of young prankster. One of the many London musicians who have heard him this week dubbed him "quote city." His imagination encompasses everything from Concierto de Aranjuez to La Cucaracha to Bill Withers' "Aint No Sunshine," with many resting places between.
The fourth member, Payton Crossley on drums, seated at the back, is utterly solid, with an exceptionally clean beat. He seemed frequently to look on in joyous disbelief and amused surprise at the lunacies and jinx of his colleagues.
The support band, James Pearson's trio with Arnie Somogyi and Clark Tracey, had guest Paul Booth on tenor. This group shone in the quieter numbers: Booth found an ideal tempo for a lyrical account of Johnny Mandel's EmilyHis husky, breathy lower register both caught the ear, and captured the audience's attention, in Gershwin's Embraceable You.
It was fantastic to see Ronnie's full, buzzing last night. People in all parts of the club were swaying in time, just out for a good evening, but also attentive and quiet when it mattered. Rob Mallows' London Jazz Meetup group were also out in force last night- no fewer than fifteen members had booked for Ron Carter, the online membership of the group now approaches 500 people. London can be unwelcoming place for foreigners, and Mallows and his cohort are doing a great job, showing people the friendliest side of our city.
For them, and for the full house at Ronnie's it was a joy and a privilege to see and hear Ron Carter last night, in every sense one of the giants of jazz.
*Statesmanship in the US is associated with height: Abraham Lincoln was 6'4", George Washington was 6' 3 1/2", Barack Obama is 6' 1 1/2"