Ron Carter Nonet
In the mainstream world, Ron Carter’s name carries far less weight than, say, Miles Davis, even though the Michigan-born bassist has appeared as a band member on landmark albums by Davis himself, Eric Dolphy, George Benson, Stan Getz, Coleman Hawkins, Bill Evans, Roberta Flack, McCoy Tyner, Chet Baker and countless others for over forty years. Despite his major contributions to the development of jazz since the late days of bebop, time after time he has graciously stepped aside to allow others the sought-after spot in the limelight.
His humility has not left him. In his subsequent roles as bandleader, he has, unlike his coeval Haden or Mingus, awarded full prominence to his instrument. Eight Plus, his first nonet American release, is so titled because the “Plus” is his piccolo bass. And by opting for the more diminutive instrument, he also passes on primary timekeeping responsibilities to one very capable Leon Maleson.
Recorded over a decade ago and mastered by the infamous Rudy Van Gelder, Eight Plus augments Carter’s usual quartet with another quartet of highly un-jazz-like cellos, which the bandleader employs to a quite unusual, and often inspired, effect from the outset. The cello quartet functions as a horn section in “Eight;” and while this imbues the song with an original texture, it seems as if Carter has not taken full advantage of the sound and shade of the instruments themselves, preferring to write for cellos-as-horns and not cellos-as-cellos. This approach changes with the solo-rich following track, “A Blues for Bradley.” The cellos have slightly less stature here, and sound more at home, particularly during the excellent pizzicato interlude.
The tender, satiny smooth “Little Waltz” (an album highlight) nods to Carter’s affinity for classical music, while “O.K.” changes direction entirely, going for what can only be described as a funk-disco dance-floor number. The latter is a love-it-or-hate-it track, as is the straightforward rendition of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You.”
Eight Plus, released on the fastidious French Dreyfus Jazz label, is a fine blend of traditional and post-bebop jazz styles enriched by the sepia-tinged sound of the cellos, all of which is at least nominally bound by a jazz veteran who exercises a nimble mastery over his chosen instrument. Although it’s a far cry from the cacophonic math-jazz in circulation today, it still manages to stay innovative in its own understated way. A good, solid album — not without its subtle imperfections, but certainly one worth owning.