On Tuesday there were more string players on stage than in a Palm Court Orchestra – not a horn player in sight. On paper this looked like one of the least exciting prospects of the week.
The John Etheridge-Ric Sanders Group with its guitar-violin front line opened the proceedings with an uneasy mixture of jazz, folk, rock and pure schmaltz. Etheridge’s guitar constantly tugged the music towards the jazz end of things, but in the end Sanders’ natural inclination to folk music won out, the ultimate insult to a near-capacity jazz audience being the announcement of a medley of Irish reels.
In contrast the set by the Ron Carter Quartet with its unusual two-bass format was pure delight. This was the quartet featured on Carter’s latest Milestone recording, with Ted Lo on piano, Leon Maleson on bass, Wilby Fletcher on drums, and Carter himself on so-called piccolo bass, an instrument somewhere between a normal bass and cello in size and register.
Carter’s brilliant playing was featured on a beautiful flamenco-style piece, but this was no one-bass hit. Emphasis was on the group effect, with breathtaking unison playing and complex contrapuntal passages, Carter often playing double time over the regular bass line as the music moved effortlessly through shifting tempos and changes of time signature. The analogy which has been drawn between this group and the MJQ is well founded. Chamber music, yes. But like the MJQ, brilliantly inventive, subtle and funky all at the same time. One could even imagine it reaching an equally large audience.