If you were to ask someone where you could hear some "free" jazz yesterday, most folks probably would have told you to check out the 12th annual Vision Festival over at the Angel Orensanz Foundation, founded as an avant-garde alternative to the more establishment JVC Jazz Festival. (The Vision Festival closes tonight; JVC runs through next Sunday.) Free jazz isn't up my personal alley, but I did hear some terrific jazz - that happened to be free - yesterday afternoon at J&R Music World. Ron Carter and his quartet (Stephen Scott, piano, Payton Crossley, drums, & Rolando Morales, percussion) played a full set to a packed room, as well as a live radio audience over WBGO 88.1FM.
Carter is literally a living history book of jazz, having played with everyone from Art Farmer, Thelonious Monk, Freddie Hubbard, and, most importantly, Miles Davis from 1963-68. Carter's new album, Dear Miles, is a tribute to those years, which he spoke about with WBGO host Monifa Brown, saying that it was like going to work in a lab.
"We didn't know we were doing some of the most important work in the history of jazz. We just put on our labcoats and went to work. But, everyday, someone would contribute something new. So, that was special."
The quartet, all dressed in dark suits, white shirts and ties, played with elegance and precision, with an emphasis on rhythm. But they weren't afraid to let their hair down: after an impossibly long volley between Carter and Scott, all Morales could do was lean back and laugh out loud. You got the feeling they could have kept going like that all night, were it not for Brown finally taking over the mic to close the program.
For those with the cash, Carter will be playing in his own 70th birthday tribute this Wednesday at Carnegie Hall, playing with some of the great musicians with whom he's shared a stage over the past 45 years: he'll play in a quartet with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, & Billy Cobham, followed by a trio with Mulgrew Miller & Russell Malone, a duo with Jim Hall, and then finally his regular quartet. Tickets available on Carnegie's website.