To play in the jazz tradition, it’s often necessary to play with the jazz tradition — tweaking, tinkering and teasing with one hand while clinging to the roots with the other. Both of the combos co-headlining the Blue Note on this stint carried off that balancing act with aplomb.
Trombonist Steve Turre, who played first on this evening, is one of the more demonstrative personalities in modern jazz — a natural inclination that has been bolstered by more than a decade as a member of the “Saturday Night Live” house band.
Turre wasted no time in engaging the crowd, beginning his set with a down-home version of “Ray’s Collard Greens” (on Turre’s new Telarc album “In the Spur of the Moment,” the song features piano legend Ray Charles). Mulgrew Miller proved a capable fill-in, sparring jovially with Turre, who opened up the tune to allow himself to flaunt his mastery on the conch shells, which are more than mere novelties in his hands.
While he isn’t particularly well-suited to playing ballads, as demonstrated by a cliched version of “Misty” dominated by hammy mute voicings, Turre is both eloquent and contagiously energized when the rhythm hits him — as it did on a fiery version of “Blackfoot” (an homage of sorts to the standard “Cherokee”).
Bassist Ron Carter has been part of the aforementioned tradition for much of the past four decades — but that hasn’t quelled his desire to innovate, as he proved time and again over the course of his quintet’s subtly challenging set. In recent times, Carter has immersed himself in the quietly compelling music of Brazil, integrating stylistic fillips into his own playing and communing extensively with the remarkable percussionist Steve Kroon.
Without breaking enough of a sweat to need the handkerchief tucked into his breast pocket, Kroon managed to work his way through nearly two dozen distinct percussive implements during “Obrigato.” What’s more, he did so without seeming obtrusive, ceding plenty of space for Carter and saxophonist Houston Person — whose tone is as thick and soulful today as it was three decades ago.
Carter did not seize full control of the spotlight until his set’s last song, but it was worth the wait. His extended solo intro and slightly left-of-center arrangement on Miles Davis’ “So What” showcased a touch as soft and sure as Michael Jordan’s and provided a smooth nightcap to an intoxicating evening.