Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Christian McBride Strips It Down to a Trio

How does Christian McBride keep making albums? Between the PBS gig and the constant touring, whether as bandleader or sideman, it’s a wonder he gets anything else done. And he’s got another album out, Out Here, on Mack Avenue, a trio project of all things with Christian Sands on piano and Ulysses Owens on drums. This particular configuration took shape when Steve Wilson and Warren Wolf couldn’t make an Inside Straight gig and instead of calling out for subs, McBride decided to do the show as a trio. First thought, best thought. Conceptually, it pretty much follows the same tangent as McBride’s latest album of originals with Inside Straight, People Music. If that was the party, this is the afterparty. It’s a blues album, more or less.

They open by sneaking their way into the minor blues Ham Hocks & Cabbage – Owens crashes a bit, McBride walks, Sands pounces a little, underscoring Owens’ emphatic solo. I Guess I’ll Have to Forget gets an expansve, low-key bolero simmer, McBride’s wry tiptoeing solo handing off to an impressionistic, Debussyesque Sands – and they then join voices and raise the dance. Easy Walker starts out genial, with a slow build, and then they swing it with a Wouldn’t You Be Nice to Come Home To vibe.

While My Favorite Things might seem a nonsensical choice without the sax, they reinvent it as an explosive romp: THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS, DAMMIT! East of the Sun & West of the Moon works its way slowly into a spacious, syncopated swing, a vehicle for precise, animated McBride solos. Cherokee messes up the tempos with Sands’ wicked, blistering solos, McBride’s solo trading with the drums and offering relief from the red-zone intensity. More bitter than sweet, I Have Dreamed sees McBride bowing somberly over wary, judicious piano, a stark contrast with what preceded it. The album winds up with Who’s Making Love and its pulsing Another One Rides the Bus vibe, and seems like it could be a lark until a solid, hard-hitting, bluesy Sands solo. The one track here that sounds like an alternate take is the rapidfire Hallelujah Time – they come soooooo close to nailing it but don’t quite hit it, and given that they’re confident enough to tackle it at all at such high velocity, it’s a good bet that another take would have been the one.

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August 9, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ellingtonian Depth and Purpose from Christian McBride

On one hand, to spend time on Christian McBride and Inside Straight’s new Mack Avenue album People Music here, when it’s already been out for two weeks and most everybody who wants it probably already has it, might not make a lot of sense. On the other hand, this is an important album for 2013. To call it Ellingtonian wouldn’t be off the mark. Deeply rooted in the blues, with strong hooks, gritty tunesmithing and a purposeful, workmanlike performance from an inspired cast of A-listers (slightly subsumed in the crisp digital production), it’s one of the best albums of the year. The concept of People Music is music for the people: tunes and a beat. Obviously, it’s not that simple. McBride’s mix of brisk, matter-of-fact swing and expansive balladry leans toward the dark side and mixes up the metrics: it’s a long way from being a pop record. Everybody’s on the same page: besides McBride, most of the album features Steve Wilson on alto and soprano sax, Carl Allen on drums, Peter Martin on piano and Warren Wolf on vibes, with Christian Sands and Ulysses Owens switching in on piano and drums on two tracks.

Sands’ steely-eyed lyricism drives the memorable opening track, the minor-key swing blues Listen to the Heroes Cry, handing off to an understatedly plaintive McBride bass solo. The bright, Brazilian-tinged Fair Hope Theme is a Wolf feature: it’s a dead ringer for a Behn Gillece tune, which is a compliment to both McBride’s writing and Wolf’s playing. The showstopper here is Gang Gang with its rolling, Indian-inflected rhythm, a biting piano vamp (Sands again) teaming with the vibraphone for a creepy carnivalesque crescendo, Allen’s deft cymbals peppering the rewarding final ascent.

Maya Angelou gets a ballad that portrays her with a nonchalant majesty, Wilson’s balmy soprano sax handing off to a tender Wolf spot that  builds to an unexpected clave groove and then winds down again. The Movement has an agitated, flurrying Mingus bustle, the whole band’s no-nonsense, percussive attack making its way methodically to an edgy Wilson alto solo. His alto also serves as a fiery foil to the nonchalantly dancing, staccato pulse of Usual Suspects, while Dream Train works a fast tiptoeing swing groove, Wolf’s rapidfire ripples in a tug-of-war with Martin’s purposeful, tumbling attack. They reprise the New Hope theme at the end as slinky clave soul. Is it any wonder why McBride is so popular?

May 29, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment