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Zankel Music Center
Skidmore College
Saratoga, NY
June 28, 2016

by Joe Major

When the Ron Carter Golden Striker Trio emerged from the wings Tuesday night at Zankel Music Center of Skidmore College, resplendent to a degree that would have made the Modern Jazz Quartet feel underdressed, they were more than sartorially top-tier. They were draped in an aura of ambassadorial grace, special attachés ready to dispatch, especially from this glassy summit, their distinguished jazz prowess.    

As befitting a bassist who’s been acknowledged by Guinness to be the world record holder of over 2,200 individual recording credits, Mr. Carter was adept at initiating the meticulous flight plans and executing the precise, articulate joinery so integral to his music. The Golden Striker Trio rewarded those efforts.

Carter, along with pianist Donald Vega and guitarist Russell Malone, discharged that apogee of jazz diplomacy, the circular spurring on. They handed off the soloist baton, one to the other to the other. On up-tempo numbers in particular, Fletcher Henderson’s “Soft Winds,” Carter’s own “Eddie’s Theme” from the movie “Blind Faith,” and Malone’s “Cedar Tree,” for example, this drum-less band seemed doubly dexterous. With each instrument voicing lead, and paving the rhythm to an exacting extent, the trio effectively drove forward as a sextet! The piano melded exquisite comps, the guitar deployed lush strumming that sounded brushy enough to be snare work, and the bass was always as reliably grounded as the thrum from an engine room.

Individually, the tours de force began with Malone’s treatment of Carter’s “Candle Light,” a tribute to former duo partner, guitarist Jim Hall. Malone’s luxuriant, measured, hollow-body footing, leading the way in muted fashion, as if only half illuminated (by candle light?), reveled in a contented solitary delight. There was a veil of meditation and satisfied self-assessment enveloping his arc. The tender evaluation and optimism sprouting out of each rippling run attested to the celestial grace accorded the lost troubadour.

Donald Vega’s reading of “My Funny Valentine” portrayed a wistful, emotionally undulating landscape, part rhapsody, part yearning. He went into melodically ripe exploration mode, cautiously examining, with Carter providing the heartbeat, both the confounding realm of sweet sorrow as well as the region of the sorrowfully sweet. He was determined, fearless, raw, exposed; and the result was spellbinding.

Carter too, was a pronounced shaper, venturing into de-construction and re-construction terrain on “You Are My Sunshine.” His joyous solo demonstration was deliciously plucked and caressed and walked, rife with slides, chokes, elongations and frisky vibratos. His rendering was so savoring of every chewed-upon impulse, so open to every mercurial tangent, so accepting of every ticklish rumination, that by the time he knitted the pieces back together the crowd was thoroughly brimming with heated adoration. Then, after formally introducing Malone and Vega from the stage, Carter gestured to the full house and said, “And you, you’re my sunshine!”

These emissaries imbued their entire set with a limpid, urbane veneer. They illuminated spewing fountains of particulate matter. Their sheer soaring musicality framed elusive tonal quarks.

While the gorgeous encore strains of “There Will Never Be Another You” still lingered in the air, appreciative jazz high-commissioners in the audience gratefully stamped the credentials of the Golden Striker delegation “APPROVED!”

Joe Major is an inveterate jazz pilgrim for whom the holy grail is always the evocative communion of impression meeting expression. Living over the border in Williamstown, MA, for thirty-plus years, he’s been the grateful beneficiary of countless Williams College performances that have arranged themselves on his ever shifting life list.