New CD Review: Ron Carter & Art Farmer – Live At Sweet Basil – 2024 – Photos

This is truly a dream band of Jazz Legends, with Ron Carter on bass, Art Farmer on trumpet and flugelhorn, Cedar Walton on piano and Billy Higgins on drums.

Four of the world’s most respected musicians (all honored as NEA Jazz Masters) come together for a scintillating night of jazz…live from New York’s Sweet Basil, one of the most prestigious and historic jazz clubs anywhere!

This state-of-the-art production marks the first time these legendary musicians have played together on the same stage. A exhilarating performance, with all of them at their peak. They achieve a swinging ensemble sound, while maintaining a delightful interplay in their solo spots.

If one wanted to capture a ‘who’s who’ snapshot of the jazz icons of the mid-’70s, into the ’80s and beyond, one of the best ways to start was to see if they had added their name to the list of artists who recorded and/or released a ‘Live at Sweet Basil’ collection.

The New York City club debuted as a restaurant in 1974 and, within a few years, artists including Art Blakey, Gil Evans, Cecil Taylor, McCoy Tyner, Mal Waldron and others began performing at the compact venue, and had recorded sessions there. One of the first to hit the ‘record’ button was bassist Ron Carter.

Carter recorded this session in 1990 along with three other jazz giants: Art Farmer on both trumpet and flugelhorn, Cedar Walton on piano and Billy Higgins on drums. Carter, Walton and Higgins even returned for yet another recorded session in 1991 (without Farmer that time around.)

Although it was a cast of equals when it came to talent in 1990, Carter and Farmer had been designated as the leaders that evening. From his early days studying classical music at the Eastman School of Music in the late ’50s to afterhours excursions to Rochester, New York jazz clubs such as the Pythodd Room, Carter perfected a disciplined, no-nonsense approach to music as he methodically earned the right to be acknowledged as a top-level professional.

Each member of the quartet penned at least one piece for this album, and “It’s About Time,” one of two Carter originals, opens the disc. Farmer quickly ‘goes solo’ on trumpet while Carter swings and sways with intuitive panache. “Art’s Song” is a mesmerizing ballad which spotlights Farmer’s flugelhorn before the group segues to “My Funny Valentine.” At close to ten minutes, the quartet is certainly in no hurry on this Rogers and Hart standard so they take it nice and easy. Farmer remains relaxed and confident and he never ‘swings for the fences.’ For Farmer, ‘sensitivity’ is often more important than ‘speed.’

The second side opens with “When Love is New,” Walton’s contribution. Farmer’s supple notes seem to drift in on a misty cloud while Walton complements Farmer’s brass with delicate sprinkles of sound. Those who do not know better, could almost assume this was a romantic standard from the ’30s. “Shortcomings,” written by Higgins, features an economical and efficient one minute drum solo by Higgins while Farmer continues to stand out in yet another subtle, reserved way. The final track, “A Theme in ¾,” is Carter’s second piece and remains low key as the quartet brings the evening in for a soft landing.

Art Farmer

A nod to Arkadia Records for presenting a pristine audiophile piece which is enhanced even more thanks to the warmth of vinyl. The music is invitingly reflective with elegant, understated musical prizes and rewards. They say when a bassist and drummer are in symbiotic sync, things go amazingly well. That balance is evident throughout.

In addition, Walton and Higgins had a history of working together so they were in sync as well. As for Farmer, he reverently glides in and out via trumpet and flugelhorn and listeners may find themselves wishing this quartet had committed even more to vinyl. Oh well. But, to paraphrase a classic movie from the ’40s, ‘we’ll always have that night at Sweet Basil.’

SIDE ONE
1. It ‘s About Time (Reprise) Ron Carter
2. Art’s Song Art Farmer
3. My Funny Valentine Rodgers and Hart

SIDE TWO
4. When Love Is New (Radio) Cedar Walton
5. Shortcomings Billy Higgins
6. A Theme In ¾ Ron Carter

Art Farmer, trumpet; Ron Carter, bass: Cedar Walton, piano; Billy Higging, drums

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