Regatta Bar

Ron Carter Trio

July 26 & 27, 2013 at The Regattabar

Deep into his illustrious career, it is obvious that Ron Carter still loves to play. In his stellar performances Friday and Saturday night, you could see him smiling while musically messing around with his band on stage. Sometimes he would surprise the musicians by reharmonizing a chord or suddenly springing into double time. His well picked trio – Donald Vega on piano and Russell Malone on guitar – was quick to respond and adapt, smiling right back at Carter. In four performances filled with virtuosic musicianship and musical conversation, the Regattabar audiences were smiling too.

The instrumentation of Carter’s trio worked tremendously within the intimate atmosphere of the Regattabar. Without being obscured by drums or percussion, Carter’s beautiful bass lines were at the forefront of each show. Guitarist Russell Malone acted as the band’s backbone with his Freddy Green-style strumming and Herb Ellis-inspired percussiveness. With technically virtuosic ability, pianist Donald Vega told me his biggest influences are Oscar Peterson and Kenny Barron (with whom he studied with at Julliard). Despite Vega’s incredible talent that can sometimes overwhelm, he still has the ability to leave space and listen.

The trio’s song selection ranged from well-known jazz standards to Michael Bolton. In a laid back version of “Soft Winds”, the band was swinging hard. Vega laid down a ferocious, bluesy solo, even showing his stride piano chops. From the back of the room, I could see half the audiences’ heads bobbing to the band’s swingin’ arrangement of the Fletcher Henderson original. Another highlight of Carter’s visit was his beautiful arrangement of the classic, “Autumn Leaves”. In it, Carter played a soulful solo, where he found his way climbing up and down the bass with the confidence and ease we’ve come to expect. But maybe the most unexpected part of the performance was Russell Malone’s jazzed up solo version of the Michael Bolton classic, “When a Man Loves a Woman”. Malone – who channeled the inventiveness of Bill Frisell in his interpretation – apparently played the song for Carter and his wife, who had just had their first anniversary one day before. As the room erupted into applause, Vega, Malone, and Carter took a well-deserved bow and exited the stage.

— Nathan Basch (Jazz pianist, Economics student at The George Washington University)