Ron Carter has turned in a treasure trove of memorable performances during his long career, but one of my favorites is this one from Joe Henderson’s The State of the Tenor album. The trio setting of sax, bass and drums gives each player room to shine, and Ron has the spotlight on the opening track, leading the band through Sam Rivers’ “Beatrice”. There’s plenty of space here for the bass to provide interesting counterpoint; the melody is spare and drummer Al Foster keeps a soft, simple beat throughout. Ron uses double and triple stops to fill in the harmony, and he pushes and pulls the beat to build tension and relax it, without ever losing that swinging feel. It’s obvious that many great bassists have studied this record, and I encourage anyone to learn at least the first few choruses of this song.
Notes on a page can’t do justice to Ron Carter’s style. For one thing, his sense of rhythm is unquantifiable. Listen to the descending line in bar 32. What could I write here that would elicit such a phrase from someone playing through this chart? My choice of a triplet over beats 2 & 3 here is just an approximation. Then, Ron plays almost the same thing in bar 48, but not quite. I wrote it differently there, but neither of these rhythms could possibly be correct. It’s imperative that you try to play along with the recording if you really want to see what makes Ron Carter a great bassist.
Another aspect of his playing that’s impossible to convey on paper is the way he slides into certain notes to get a throaty, growling sound. Check out bars 55, 71 and 86 especially to hear the kinds of things that are left out of this chart.
If there’s one other thing I recommend taking away from this performance, it’s the tenths Ron employs from bars 133-152. Learning how to play these comfortably is a powerful tool bass players can use to add variety and style to their sonic palette.
As usual, the º symbol indicates a string harmonic rather than a fingered note.
Have fun studying this recording!