Ron Carter was happy enough with "The Golden Striker," last year's CD with pianist Mulgrew Miller and guitarist Russell Malone, that he decided to take the trio on the road this year. Among their first stops: this weekend's three-night set at the Regattabar, which opened Friday in fine style, despite some minor difficulty with an amplifier.
Carter, still perhaps best known even after all these years for his role in Miles Davis's famous 1960s quintet, is one of the very few bassists daring and talented enough to tour and make records with bass as the lead instrument. But this trio amounts to a sort of double-dare; by dispensing with drums, the bass, piano, and guitar are obliged to keep time unaided.
That proved no trouble whatsoever for musicians of this caliber, however. They opened with Carter's "Laverne Walk," one of two tunes in the first set to be plucked from the bassist's 1977 album "Piccolo." Carter took the opening solo, with Malone providing a steady beat and Miller concentrating on more harmonic comping. Miller followed with the first of his several lyrical solos, and Malone came next with a solo featuring a few fast runs with a hint of George Benson in them.
More than anything, though, the first tune set the tone for much of what would follow: quiet, dignified arrangements not that far from chamber music.
"Cedar Tree," Malone's compositional contribution to "The Golden Striker," was up second, and featured his guitar occasionally handing off a few bars of melody to Miller's piano during an extended solo.
"Parade," originally from a Carter album of that name and rearranged for the trio, was a highlight of the first set. It has something of a Caribbean lilt and tempo to it, and Malone, aside from his solo, spent most of the tune tapping out the rhythm on the fretboard with his right index finger. That solo was unusually deft, though, and Carter smiled slyly at Miller in appreciation of it at one point.
Miller shone brightest on the prettiest piece of the set, Carter's meditative "Little Waltz." It began with Miller playing the melody by himself, very slowly, one note at a time, then dropping in a few chords as Carter and Malone began to join in, Malone almost inaudibly initially, then adding soft, ringing chords. Guitar and bass solos followed, before Miller took up the melody again on the piano.
Carter introduced the band at this point, and made his only tune announcement, "The Golden Striker" as the last song of the set. Carter picked out the John Lewis melody, conjuring up memories of Percy Heath with the MJQ. After the leader's solo, Miller came in with an effort as pretty and understated as Lewis's own playing.