Christian McBride Trio at the Mahaffey Theater (Concert review)

(Recently published in JazzTimes; direct link)

(photos by Bridge Burke)

What kind of double bass tone does Christian McBride pursue? It’s the sound of chopping wood, as the then-young bassist described it to me for an interview at the dawn of his career as a solo artist.

Two decades later, McBride, justifiably the most recorded and most honored jazz bassist of his generation, still boasts that appealing sound on upright, a voice heavily influenced by Ray Brown and Ron Carter but now uniquely identifiable as his own. His beefy, earthy tone, often jaw-dropping technical abilities, and skills as an improviser, composer and bandleader were well displayed during a Nov. 2 concert at the comfortable, well-appointed Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg.

Christian McBride, backstage at the 2012 Newport Jazz Festival

McBride was joined by a pair of strikingly talented young musicians, pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr., for two impressive sets’ worth of standards and original compositions. Sands, 23, throughout displayed astonishing chops that were sometimes reminiscent of the likes of Oscar Peterson, and he also showed a lighter, more genteel touch, in the vein of the late Billy Taylor, one of the New Haven, Conn., native’s early teachers. Owens, 29, originally from Jacksonville, Fla., demonstrated precise, intuitive trap set work, throwing unexpected accents and bomb drops into the mix, sometimes switching to brushes, and at one point playing barehanded.

Unlike some recent electric-jazz ventures, on which McBride has incorporated bass guitar and fretless bass, his new trio emphasizes acoustic bebop, hard bop and swing. Much of the evening’s music was drawn from McBride’s new CD, due early next year on the Mack Avenue label.

The trio offered standards and familiar pieces: “Monk’s “I Mean You,” featuring a furious opening unison riff and a trading-fours section; “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World”; “My Favorite Things,” limned with cascading piano; Billy Taylor’s aptly titled “Easy Walker,” with Owens’ derring-do on brushes; “I Have Dreamed” (from the musical The King and I), on which McBride bowed the melody; and, on the encore, Benny Golson’s “Killer Joe.”

McBride, too, brought smartly turned originals, including laidback, starting-stopping opener “The Duhty Blues” and “I Guess I’ll Have to Forget,” a ballad (originally recorded for his 2000 Sci-Fi album) on which his solo started slowly, in a melodic, folkish, vein before speeding up for a bluesy feel. The trio also offered a nod to funk and R&B, near the end of the show, courtesy of a version of Johnny Taylor’s “Who’s Making Love” that also referenced Michael Jackson’s “Gonna Be Starting Something” and Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.”

McBride, of course, was the show’s star, alternating robust walking grooves with speedy runs, chords, slides and plucked harmonics clusters, and taking time for friendly chats with the enthusiastic audience. He never disappoints, and his latest band, like its predecessors, is worth seeking out.

Tampa Jazz Notes: Christian McBride Rules at the Mahaffey; Ybor Jazz Fest Continues; Rickie Lee Jones Cancelled

 
Christian McBride
, easily the most recorded and most honored jazz bassist of his generation, brought his trio to the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg  Saturday night for two impressive sets’ worth of standards and original compositions.

Much of the music was taken from McBride’s new CD, due early next year on the Mack Avenue label.  It wouldn’t be overstating things to say that the group, with McBride (Mahaffey photo by Bridge Burke) joined by monster young pianist Christian Sands and similarly talented drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. (photo by Bridge Burke), played the hell out of the material.

Unlike some of his recent ventures, McBride’s current trio is focused on the acoustic bebop, hard bop and swing side of jazz, with a nod to funk and R&B only coming only at the end of the show, courtesy of a version of Johnny Taylor’s “Who’s Making Love” that also referenced Michael Jackson’s “Gonna Be Starting Something” and Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.”

Sands, 23, throughout displayed astonishing chops that were sometimes reminiscent of the likes of Oscar Peterson, and he also showed a lighter, more genteel touch, in the vein of the late Billy Taylor, one of the New Haven, Conn. native’s early teachers. Owens demonstrated precise, intuitive playing, throwing unexpected accents and bomb drops into the mix, and sometimes switching to brushes.

McBride, of course, was the show’s star, turning in jaw-dropping runs, chords, slides and harmonic plucks, and offering beefy tone and walking grooves that were heavily influenced by Ray Brown and Ron Carter, while still distinctly his own.

The trio offered standards and familiar pieces — “Monk’s “I Mean You,” “My Favorite Things,” Billy Taylor’s “Easy Walker,” Benny Golson’s “Killer Joe” — as well as McBride’s smartly turned originals.

Nice seeing McBride back in the Tampa Bay area so quickly, after bringing his “Kind of Brown” quintet to last year’s Clearwater Jazz Holiday; before that, he was last here with Pat Metheny‘s Trio, with drummer Antonio Sanchez, at the Tampa Theatre. McBride more than once told the audience how much he felt at home. So maybe he’ll make it an annual tradition?

(I’m writing a more detailed review of the fest for a jazz mag; I’ll link to it in this space when it’s published)

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If the Mahaffey audience felt like a hometown crowd to McBride, maybe that owed in part to the number of locally based jazz musicians and jazz aficionados in attendance for what felt like a must-see on this year’s jazz calendar. We ran into pianists Kenny Drew, Jr. and Stan Hunter, drummers Ian Goodman, Mark Feinman and Steve Bucholtz (my old rhythm-section mate from the University of Florida jazz band), and bassist Alejandro Arenas, as well as Bob Seymour, the longtime jazz director for WUSF, 89.7 FM. Several musicians, and students, had a chance to attend a Q&A with McBride during sound check on Saturday afternoon.

That “just like home” feeling probably stemmed, too, from the fact that some McBride family members were in the audience, including a cousin, Faith Walston. McBride took a few minutes to give a shout-out to Walston’s recent book, “All Paws In: Lessons Learned From Loving My Rescue Dogs.”

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Many of the above-mentioned locally based musicians are on the bill for the third annual Ybor Jazz Festival, which continues through Sunday at the HCC Performing Arts Building in Ybor City. Drew plays tonight, with Latin supergroup Guisando Caliente. Sunday, the trio Jazztek will be followed by Rayzilla’s Dreamboats. Admission is $15 daily. For more information, click here.

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As mentioned on my Facebook page, I was REALLY looking forward to hearing Rickie Lee Jones, next Sunday (Nov. 11) at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg. Jones’ voice, jazz-pop songs and arrangements and great bands first impressed me back in the summer of ’79, when Chuck E.’s in Love” was part of the soundtrack of my teenage life (and background for an early romance). She had me at hello.

Unfortunately, the show was suddenly cancelled this week. I’ve not made any official inquiries as to why it’s no longer happening. On a whim, I contacted Rickie Lee through her Twitter account, and this is what she wrote in response: “Cancelled by promoter and manager. Come to the other date n florida.”

She’s also playing Nov 7 in Little Torch Key, Nov. 9 in Ponte Vedra, and Nov. 10 in Orlando. For more info, visit her site.