The Bottom Line of Bass

There are some surprising similarities between bassists Ron Carter and Gary Peacock. Born two years apart under the sign of Taurus--Carter is 61, Peacock is 63--both have performed in a wide array of settings, and both are held in universally high esteem by jazz musicians of every age and style.

Carter, who is especially well regarded as a composer in Japan, where he is one of the best-selling artists in jazz, has spent more time writing for large--often unusually instrumented--ensembles. Peacock has more commonly worked in smaller ensembles, most notably with pianists Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett.

Both have a history with Miles Davis, both were active in the avant-garde of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and both are considered nonpareil rhythm section players, intelligent artists who make significant contributions to even the most casual assignments.

Heard here in two distinctly different, but challenging settings, each delivers a characteristic example of what first-rate modern bass playing is all about.


This version of the Carter trio, with Kenny Barron on piano and Lewis Nash on drums, leaves little to be desired other than the wish that this superbly matched group of players would decide to work together over a protracted period of time.

As a unit, they play with a flow that makes every rendering seem precisely right. Listen to how they take a piece as seemingly fundamental as a medium blues on Carter’s “It’s About Time” and bring it to life by handling all the basic things--drive, swing, sensitive interaction--with utter clarity. And listen to the way in which Barron’s lyrical piano comes front and center on a ballad such as “My Foolish Heart,” buoyantly supported by precise understatement of bass and drums.

In this felicitous setting Carter’s finest qualities as a bassist--not always apparent in his other albums that emphasize concept and composition--now come through. And those qualities are filled with artistic subtleties: the way in which he picks the most stimulating bass notes to underscore Barron’s harmonic clusters; the manner in which his compositional imagination creates patterns that provide subtle organizational qualities to the music; his solid but ever-driving rhythms and his impeccably accurate pitch.

Further enhancing the quality of this delightful album, the material is good enough to afford the players with firm improvisational springboards--four Carter originals, a couple of standards (“You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” and “My Foolish Heart”) and two attractive jazz lines, Miles Davis’ “So What” and Randy Weston’s “Hi-Fly"--and, individually and as an ensemble, they make the most of it.


“A Closer View” is a kind of mirror image to the first Towner/Peacock collaboration, 1993’s “Oracle,” also on ECM. The earlier album featured Peacock’s compositions; this one includes seven Towner works, three spontaneous joint improvisations, and a single Peacock piece, “Moor.”

It is, in the best ECM tradition, thoughtful, sometimes meditative music, with Towner’s classically oriented guitar often taking the spotlight. Since his days with the band Oregon, Towner has moved easily from classically oriented acoustic music to floating modern jazz and, occasionally, edgy contemporary sounds. Although his gentle side is generally on display here, he doesn’t hesitate to suddenly switch--as he does on, say, “Beppo"--into a swinging, briskly chorded jazz approach.

In this kind of acoustic environment, Peacock is obliged to use his bass in guitar-like manner, fashioning low-note extensions and counterlines to supplement and contrast Towner’s guitar.

And he does so with ease. His soloing--listen to his work on “Moor,” for example--unfolds with a seasoned sense of maturity. Fully capable of playing with rapid virtuosity, Peacock chooses instead to search for (and to find) the intersection between his instrument’s dark timbral qualities, its rarely explored potential as a melody instrument and its inherent musical warmth.



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