BASS IN YOUR FACE: Ron Carter is one of those names in jazz so deeply entrenched, so essentially iconic, that the mere mention conjures up sounds and images. You see a tall, refined and sometimes introverted man, possibly with a pipe, bowtie and comporting himself with a professorial air. He doesn’t suffer fools lightly, or indulge in small talk. But when Carter sets fingers to bass strings, we understand why he’s one of the legends on the instrument. He swings and walks with calm, sure authority and feeling, engages in spirited musical conversations with band mates, and takes elegant and sometimes adventurous detours in his solos.
Also in our mind’s ear, the name Ron Carter takes us back to what may be the pinnacle of his long and multi-directional life, as a foundational element in the greatest quintet in jazz: Miles Davis‘s mid-60s group with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and Tony Williams. Two years ago, Carter finally addressed that period with his long-awaited Miles tribute Dear Miles, (Blue Note). Post-Miles, the bassist has distinguished himself with an assortment of projects, large and small, working with CTI in the ‘70s (including a CTI-rich Santa Barbara show called “Ron Carter and Friends”), blending classical music-especially Bach-and jazz (with mixed reviews), and making education a strong part of his life. Hence, the professorial air.
Guitarist Bill Frisell is one avowed Carter fan, turned occasional colleague. Frisell led and released an intriguing 2006 album in trio format with Carter and drummer Paul Motian, which they recently performed at N.Y.C.’s Blue Note. The guitarist even wrote a tune called “Ron Carter” (which, incidentally, Santa Barbara’s own David Piltch played bass on, on Frisell’s 2001 album Blues Dream).
Carter, now 72, makes his first Santa Barbara appearance under his own name in decades (although he played with VSOP at the County Bowl), tonight at the Lobero Theatre. The concert is a strong finale to the current Jazz at the Lobero series, and is also under the umbrella of the citywide International Guitar Festival sponsored by the Santa Barbara Symphony. The guitar part of the equation relates to the masterful Russell Malone, possibly the most exciting mainstream jazz guitarist around, last heard at the Lobero with Dianne Reeves. Pianist Mulgrew Miller rounds out the trio, which has recorded together (2003’s The Golden Striker and the 2007 Japanese release It’s the Time) and it plays when logistics and scheduling permit. The clean-burning drummer-less format is familiar to Carter, who used to play in a trio with pianist Kenny Barron and guitarist Herb Ellis.
Jazz journalist Dan Oulette‘s newly-issued authorized Carter biography, published on the Artists Share imprint (also an innovative new artist-coop jazz record label) is called Finding the Right Notes. The bassist has made that a habit, then and now and into the future.
GUITAR NOTES OF THE HIGHER SORT: The currently running International Guitar Festival continues through the weekend, its pinnacle being the performance of Sergio Assad‘s new “Interchange for Four Guitars and Orchestra,” written for and featuring the remarkable Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, in performance with the Santa Barbara Symphony at the Granada on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. LAGQ premiered the work in early February and has lined up numerous performances through the season, giving this important new piece a solid send-off into the world.
LAGQ is no collective stranger to Santa Barbara, and neither is Assad, whose latest performance here with his brother Odair Assad was a memorable and intimate set in the mural room of the Santa Barbara Courthouse. Speaking of Brazilian guitar mastery and the guitar festival, Friday night brings the acclaimed Brasil Guitar Duo-Jo£o Luiz and Douglas Lora-to Hahn Hall. In a sense, the Duo concert is one of the more exciting, is lesser-known, offshoots of the festival, in terms of introducing a new voice to the local concert scene. Mayor Blum should, by now, anoint our city a safe haven for serious guitar music.