Ron Carter, “Ron Carter’s Great Big Band” (CD review)

(recently reviewed for Jazz Times; direct link)

Ron Carter, Ron Carter’s Great Big Band (Sunnyside)

Given the thousands of recordings that Ron Carter has played on, it’s surprising that Ron Carter’s Great Big Band is the masterful bassist’s first session leading a large ensemble. Tapping the talents of prolific jazz and pop arranger Robert Freedman, pianist Mulgrew Miller, drummer Lewis Nash and a roomful of first-call hornmen, Carter turns in a 13-track program that makes a refreshing—not stuffy—jazz-history survey, with music dating all the way back to W.C. Handy. Underneath it all, Carter drives the tunes, including two of his own, with typically impeccable time, tone that’s woody and resonant, and adroit note choices.

The Latin-tinged pieces are among the standouts on the disc. A shimmering version of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma” opens and closes with a brass choir, and features a slipping-and-sliding Carter solo as well as dazzling, economical turns from Miller, trumpeter Greg Gisbert and alto saxophonist Steve Wilson. Jerry Dodgion’s bright, inquisitive soprano sax rides atop a version of Ellington’s “Caravan” characterized by a sneaky intro, staggered brass and some intriguing detours.

Freedman nods to the classic ’40s big-band sound on a couple of occasions, with an update of Sy Oliver’s “Opus One,” penned for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and here led off by bass trombonist Doug Purviance, and Tom Harrell’s retro-minded “Sail Away,” with relaxed solos by Miller, trombonist James Burton III, Carter and tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery. The band also ventures into hard bop, with a fiery take on Sonny Stitt’s “The Eternal Triangle”; cool-jazz climes, with Gerry Mulligan’s tuneful “Line for Lyons” and John Lewis’ “The Golden Striker”; and soul jazz, with a grooving take on Nat Adderley’s “Sweet Emma.” Carter even offers a pleasant return trip to Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” which the bassist, 74, helped make famous as part of Miles’ Second Great Quintet.

Best Jazz CDs of 2008? Down Beat Looks Back

Down Beat’s official critics poll, which isn’t hinged to the calendar year, won’t arrive until August.

But the January issue of the magazine (to which I’m a longtime contributor) offers a list of the jazz CDs that notched the best reviews – highest star ratings – in 2008.

The five-star releases, although all deserving of high praise, may or may not deserve to be called “New Masterpieces”; a decade from now, will these recordings still resonate? Still, I was particularly impressed by the Caine, Haden, and McLaughlin discs. Here’s the list:

  • Gunther Schuller, Journey Into Jazz (BMOP Sound)
  • Uri Caine Ensemble, The Othello Syndrome (Winter & Winter)Uri Caine - The Othello Syndrome
  • Otis Taylor, Recapturing the Banjo (Telarc)
  • John McLaughlin, Floating Point (Abstract Logix)
  • Charlie Haden Family and Friends, Rambling Boy (Decca)

A step down are the 4.5-star releases, including several of my ’08 favorites – Clark, Corea/Burton, Herwig, and Frisell.

Here’s that list:

  • Anthony Braxton, Trio (Victoriaville)
  • Mike Clark, Blueprints of Jazz Volume 1 (Talking House)
  • Chick Corea and Gary Burton, The New Crystal Silence (Concord)
  • Marilyn Crispell, Vignettes (ECM)
  • Prieto Dafnis Sextet, Taking the Soul for a Walk (Dafnison Music)
  • Die Enttauschung, Die Enttauschung (Intakt)
  • Bill Frisell, History, Mystery (Nonesuch)
  • Mike Garson, Conversations With My Family (Resonance)
  • Jon Gordon, Within Words (ArtistShare)
  • Conrad Herwig, The Latin Side of Wayne Shorter (Half Note)Chick Corea & Gary Burton, The New Crystal Silence
  • Grace Kelly and Lee Konitz, GRACEfulLee (Pazz)
  • Moss, Moss (Sunnyside)
  • Rosa Passos, Romance (Telarc)
  • Mario Pavone, Trio Arc (Playscape)
  • Herb Robertson and the NY Downtown Allstars, Real Aberration (Clean Feed)
  • Wadada Leo Smith and the Golden Quartet, Tabligh (Cueniform)
  • Gebhard Ullmann, New Basement Research (Soul Note)
  • Norma Winstone, Distances (ECM)

It’s interesting to note that the music deemed among the best jazz of the year is spread out on nearly as many labels as there are releases. The exceptions – two are on ECM, and two are on Telarc.

The next level down, the four-star CDs, features 124 releases, including several, below, that struck me as particularly outstanding (and in some cases, deserving of higher star ratings):

  • Brian Blade, Season of Changes (Verve)
  • The Blind Boys of Alabama, Down in New Orleans (TimeLife)
  • Anat Cohen, Notes From the Village (Anzic)
  • John Ellis and Double-Wide, Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow (Hyena)
  • Drew Gress, The Irrational Numbers (Premonition)
  • Lionel Loueke, Karibu (Blue Note)
  • Pat Metheny, Day Trip (Nonesuch)Pat Metheny, Day Trip
  • Radiohead, In Rainbows (ATO) – not jazz, I know, but how could this CD NOT be on anyone’s best-of list?
  • Josh Roseman, New Constellations (Accurate)
  • Kurt Rosenwinkel Group, The Remedy: Live at the Village Vanguard (ArtistShare)
  • Esperanza Spalding, Esperanza (Heads Up)
  • Susan Tedeschi, Back to the River (Verve Forecast)

Yes, I’ll be getting around to submitting my Top 10 CD list(s) to one or more publications. But not quite yet.