The Unstoppable Christian McBride — Remembering His Vanguard Show

Huge tone, impeccable technique, compositional acumen, big personality, ambition — just a few of the traits that have driven bassist Christian McBride’s success as a recording artist, bandleader and, lately, NPR show host.

In coming weeks and months, he’s leading his trio — with pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. — at venues all around the United States, and taking his big band to Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola for a weeklong stint at the end of March.

It’s unlikely that I’ll make any of those shows, but I’m still feeling the afterglow of the McBride performance I caught last month at the Village Vanguard in New York. I caught the late show on Tuesday, Dec. 2, a cold and rainy Manhattan night, and the first evening of McBride’s week there with his Inside Straight group, to be followed by another week with his trio.

Here’s what I wrote about the show, for Relix magazine (click here to go straight to the mag), along with the iPhone pic I shot that night:

“It’s been quite some time since we’ve played together,” Christian McBride said, on opening night of the bassist’s weeklong stint with his reunited Inside Straight band. “It’s like putting on your favorite shoes.” Whether walking his upright or leaning in the direction of funk or Latin grooves, McBride led saxophonist Steve Wilson, vibraphonist Warren Wolf, pianist Peter Martin and drummer Carl Allen through an engaging set that indeed sounded like they picked up right where they had left off before turning their attention to other projects.

The quintet, playing for a packed house of reverential listeners at the Village Vanguard, the holiest of the holiest of New York jazz venues, largely drew from the group’s sophomore CD, People Music, released in 2013. Alto saxophone and vibes sounded the melody of McBride-penned opener “Listen to the Heroes Cry,” with Wolf, during his solo, throwing in a reference to Nat Adderley’s “Work Song” and the bassist alternating short bluesy stabs with speedy runs; the tune closed with a long outro, group improv and fade out.

McBride and Allen excelled at crafting dynamic rhythmic sculptures that drove the band on two other pieces from the 2013 release — Wolf’s churning “Gang Gang,” featuring barn-burning vibes and drums turns, and Wilson’s delicate, soprano-led ballad “Ms. Angelou.”

The set’s second half ventured in some different directions, starting with the Caribbean and New Orleans grooves of a piece with vibes and alto on the front line. McBride played a bowed solo on a relaxed, expansive version of Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady,” and the five turned up the intensity on Freddie Hubbard’s “Theme for Kareem” (heard on the group’s 2009 Kind of Brown CD), with the leader shifting into full doghouse-bass mode at the song’s start. McBride, also leader of a trio and big band, and host of NPR’s “Jazz Night in America,” shines regardless of the setting.

 

 

 

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