Concert Reviews

Bass Legend Ron Carter Performs at Keystone Korner

It’s not every day that one has the opportunity to attend a performance by a jazz legend. With a six-decade long career, bassist and bandleader Ron Carter holds the title for most recorded jazz bassist, totaling over 2,200 recordings with such greats as Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Jim Hall, Duke Pearson, Lee Morgan, Horace Silver, Joe Henderson, and many, many more. On August 19-22, he performed at Baltimore’s popular jazz club Keystone Korner with his new quartet, consisting of pianist Renee Rosnes, saxophonist Jimmy Greene, and drummer Payton Crossley. This was his third visit to the Charm City venue. He was the featured act for the club’s grand opening in April 2019 and performed there once more in January 2020.

When you enter Keystone Korner, it is almost impossible not to recast yourself into a black-and-white milieu of the bop and post-bop eras. A welcoming seat at the bar and the promise of top-shelf jazz performances await all.

Dining patrons and staff members were beaming with excitement about the evening’s performance. For everyone, it was a nice reprieve from the reality of the tough times we are currently facing. In attendance was a mix of jazz enthusiasts, students, artists, writers, radio personnel, and musicians, including Baltimore’s own bassists Eddie Hyrbyk and Blake Meister. With drink in hand, I sat at the back of the bar and continued to observe.

The performance featured tunes from the quartet’s latest album Foursight – Stockholm, recorded live in the Swedish capital in 2018 and released on two volumes. The group projected dynamic interplay throughout, making for a highly conceptualized performance. Keystone Korner owner Todd Barkan calls Ron Carter a “musical storyteller,” and I couldn’t agree more.

The evening began with one of Carter’s original compositions “595.” The melody harkens back to Miles Davis’s “So What,” the opening track to his critically acclaimed 1959 album Kind of Blue. Carter and Crossley laid down the groove on “Mr. Bow Tie,” switching up feels and keeping audience members on their toes. On “Flamenco Sketches,” Greene offered a thoughtful solo to the abstract piece while Rosnes added smatterings of chordal voicings. The song entered a new chapter when saxophone, piano, and drums faded, and we were left with only Carter, who performed a splendid bass solo. All listened intently. It was an expressive display, returning to a blues riff every now and again. He quoted J.S. Bach’s “Prelude in C Major,” no doubt a nod to his classical training in his younger years. The trio rejoined to reiterate the theme of “Mr. Bow Tie” before a hearty round of applause by the house. They had played for forty minutes, no break.

The atmosphere changed with their modern rendition of “My Funny Valentine.” Rosnes poignantly played the haunting melody while Carter backed her up with some interesting bassline ideas. “Saguaro” brightened up the room with Rosnes’s and Greene’s playful interplay. The ensemble eased into the laid-back “Nearly” before concluding the program with the 1934 standard “You and the Night and the Music.” These were some of the highlights of the performance.

At age 84, Carter still performs with the same gusto as he did in his earliest recordings.

I was fortunate enough to chat with Carter before his departure for the night. With sincerity in his voice, he expressed gratitude for the “great audience” that evening. As for the next few performances, he says “expect some great music. [You] will be surprised by our presentation… Come by and experience it.”

The Ron Carter Quartet is anticipating a European tour September 16-25 but are not yet sure if the continent will open up by then.

Some of Baltimore’s finest to soon perform at Keystone Korner include Warren Wolf, Greg Hatza, and Seth Kibel. To keep up with more fantastic performances by local, national, and international jazz artists, follow Keystone Korner on social media or visit their website

Kristoffer Belgica is a Texas native who primarily plays rhythm guitar for local gypsy jazz ensembles Hot Club of Baltimore, and the DC-based group Swing 5. He gave seven years of service in the U.S. Air Force and now devotes his time learning from and contributing to the Baltimore jazz community. He has written several articles for the BJA newsletter.

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