Ron Carter – When Skies are Grey

When Skies are Grey
Ron Carter
(Blue Note – 2001)
by John Barrett

The bassist was skeptical when someone suggested “do a Latin album”. Then Ron Carter remembered a Wes Montgomery disc he played on:straight-ahead grooves, and congas to give it spice. They used that model for this date, and it works just fine. The leader opens “Loose Change” with a vibrant strum, to which Stephen Scott adds a bluesy bump. The colors drift from tense to sweet; when Scott starts to cha-cha, Carter swoops low for a trombone-like solo. “Besame Mucho” starts slow and builds in atmosphere; the chords are warm, and Ron walks a near-baião. His solo is deep and slinks on cat feet –the bongos prod him faster, and Scott’s turn is surprisingly edgy.

“Que Pasa” (Not Silver’s tune but a Carter original) starts like salon music, with lonely keys and distant brushes. Then Stephen turns bluesy and the scratchers come in – vintage soul-jazz, with a Latin kick. It may not be fancy, but Ron knows: sometimes the simple pleasures are the best. As Steve Kroon begins on the congas, a bolero starts up, slow and sinuous. Ron has the theme to himself: it’s “Corcovado”, stretched long and full of emotion. His solo is busy, trading short phrases with Scott – listen close, so it will grow on you.

“Cubano Chant” was made famous by Tjader; normally played bold, this version is a delicate whisper. Stephen starts a phrase, Ron finishes … and of course there is time for the blues. This is Scott’s finest moment (and Harvey Mason, who gets lots of cymbal into his minute-long solo.) Ron stands alone on “Mi Tempo”: an insistent riff, thumping against the drummers. He’s earthy, he’s powerful; he knows what a song needs to make it work. And this album works; it’s my favorite so far in the new year.