Recently, Ron Carter has been receiving his due. Though many listeners think that Carter’s most notable achievement was his participation in the second great Miles Davis quintet, in fact Carter was busily recording before and ever since Carter’s Miles Davis years that ended in 1968. Carter no doubt rivals Milt Hinton as the most recorded jazz bassist, and Carter has been a leader on his own albums since the early 1970s, including, since 1991, with Blue Note. Carter’s own quartet, heard on Dear Miles, has been in existence, with several personnel changes (most notably percussionists) for 15 years. But Carter’s career of a half century of making unforgettable music was unforgettably recognized during the 2007 JVC Jazz Festival when he reunited, excitingly, with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, not just to recollect their years with Davis, but also to celebrate Carter’s seventieth birthday. Jim Hall was there, too, to recall his remarkable duo albums with Carter.
Carter’s choice of musicians to honor Davis, however, consists of the members of his quartet. For Carter is a strong believer in the value of recording with a regular group, despite entertainment industry pressures to vary accompanying musicians on successive recordings. Not only is Carter’s enjoyment of the rhythm section’s role evident (for the basic nature and feel of his quartet is that of a rhythm section given the opportunity for extended interplay between horn-led choruses). Also, the quartet is more manageable, allowing Carter to shape the music and providing breathing space for his bass work, rather than serving solely as a rhythmic foundation or a connective instrument in a larger ensemble. Dear Miles, starts with a suitable demonstration of the group’s encapsulation of a larger group’s music when but four instrumentalists perform the song made famous by Davis’ Porgy and Bess recording with the Gil Evans Orchestra. With a pouncing liveliness, the quartet’s interpretation serves as an attention-getter as Dear Miles, begins. Yet, after the concept of minitiaturing the Orchestra’s configuration takes hold, Carter’s group has some fun with "Gone," as quotes start to fly and the spontaneity of the members of this steady group locks in.
However, the quartet’s playfulness contained within the respectful tribute continues on the next track, "Seven Steps to Heaven," buoyant and still full of quotes. In fact, one of the constants of Dear Miles, is the use of quotes, which infuse most of the tracks, as bits of "Moody’s Mood for Love," the chimes of a grandfather’s clock (on "As Time Goes By"), "Grand Canyon Suite" or "Teach Me Tonight" emerge and disappear within the fabric of the music. Obviously, this is a group which enjoys instantaneous give-and-take and which is comfortable with one another’s musical choices.
Carter’s fond reminiscence continues throughout the album as he covers some of Davis’s well-known versions of songs like "Someday My Prince Will Come," begun with the famous ostinato bass line before the loping melody ensues. But the project includes a few songs not as closely associated with Davis, such as a re-interpretation of his 1950’s recording of Milt Jackson’s "Bags Groove." In addition, Carter includes two of his own original compositions. His lightly swinging "595" is the last track, and it incorporates, cannily, suggestions of the modal approach of Kind of Blue with its allusions to "So What."
Even now, Ron Carter enjoys playing in the moment, and he challenged his quartet members to focus their thoughts on making each note count as he insisted on just one take of each track. Concentrated and energized, the Ron Carter Quartet captures the ineffable musical spirit that makes performances unforgettable.... the way that the Miles Davis quintet’s recordings stay in the mind, as part of the listener’s consciousness, four decades later.