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Review: McBride covers new ground on 2 new CDs

The Associated Press, Tuesday, November 15, 2011, 3:49am (PST)

Christian McBride Big Band, "The Good Feeling" (Mack Avenue)

Christian McBride, "Conversations With Christian" (Mack Avenue)

These two contrasting CDs, released less than two months apart, showcase the versatility of in-demand jazz bassist Christian McBride. The intimate "Conversations With Christian" is his first album entirely of duets, while the large-scale "The Good Feeling" marks his recording debut as a big band leader.

McBride offers a primer on the art of bass playing on "Conversations" as he adapts his technical prowess to find the right accompaniment for his 13 partners from diverse genres, including Sting on the pop star's "Consider Me Gone." McBride gets a big sound plucking the strings on the metrically complex "Afirika" with singer Angelique Kidjo. He uses his bow on both "Fat Bach and Greens" with violinist Regina Carter, which morphs from a Bach violin concerto into blues, and on the late pianist Dr. Billy Taylor's movingly meditative "Spiritual."

McBride can slap his bass with singer Dee Dee Bridgewater on the Isley Brothers' "It's Your Thing"; get into a hot Latin groove on pianist Eddie Palmieri's "Guajeo Y Tumbao"; engage in abstract open exploration with pianist Chick Corea on "Tango Improvisation (hash)1;" and play more traditional jazz bass lines on the standards "Baubles, Bangles and Beads" with trumpeter Roy Hargrove and "Alone Together" with the late pianist Hank Jones.

McBride takes his share of solos on "The Good Feeling," but his bass playing takes a back seat to his roles as composer, arranger and conductor of his 17-piece big band. The CD includes his first-ever big band composition, "Bluesin' In Alphabet City," as well as expanded arrangements of pieces previously recorded with his small groups, including the rapid-fire "In A Hurry" with crisp call-and-response ensemble playing and McBride bowing a blistering bass solo.

McBride has immersed himself in the big band tradition. Like Duke Ellington, he composes for individual members of his band. For example the funky "Brother Mister" is a showcase for alto saxophonist Steve Wilson. His smooth arrangement of the bluesy 1950s tune "Broadway" sounds like it could have belonged to the Count Basie Orchestra's repertoire. And the Basie links are also evident in McBride's arrangement of the standard "The More I See You," evoking the Basie-Sinatra collaborations, with brassy bursts punctuating vocals by McBride's wife, Melissa Walker.

With these two CDs, McBride ventures into new territory, cementing his reputation as a bassist for all seasons.

CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: "Shake `N Blake," written for long-time partner Ron Blake, finds the bassist trading rhythmically shifting lines with the tenor saxophonist in a duet on "Conversations"; the same piece is expanded into a hard-swinging big band number on "The Good Feeling" with Blake playing off the powerful ensemble work by the trumpet section.

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