June 17, 2024

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CD review: Christian McBride & Inside Straight – Live at the Village Vanguard 2021: Video, CD cover

This is the essence of a well-timed release as Christian McBride’s Insight Straight makes their annual visit to The Village Vanguard from 11/30 -12/5. This is the third recording of the band, but Live at the Village Vanguard is the first live recording, and it dates to a performance in December 2014, seven years after the inception of the band at the same venerated venue.

These set of words – “Live at the Village Vanguard” brings a natural cache to any jazz album, evoking those of Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Joe Lovano, and many others. This group has a very special acoustic jazz sound – melodic and highly harmonic – with McBride on the upright bass, Steve Wilson on alto and soprano saxophones, Warren Wolf on vibes, Peter Martin on piano, and Carl Allen on drums.

As McBride details in the liners, the inception of the band came about during a period when McBride was highly eclectic, dabbling in fusion, collaborations with classical bassist Edgar Meyer, avant-garde composer and violinist Laurie Anderson, and a wide range of performances with Sting, James Brown, and his high school buddy, Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson of The Roots. Yes, the prolific McBride was also performing with Sonny Rolling, Freddie Hubbard, Pat Metheny, and the late Chick Corea during this same period. At the not-so-subtle urging of Vanguard club owner, the late Lorraine Gordon, McBride, who was also feeling a strong urge to return to straight-ahead acoustic jazz and had secured a week-long run at the club, recruited this band. Initially the pianist was Eric Reed who was subsequently replaced by Peter Martin. Their run was a huge hit, selling out every show in the week to the delight of Gordon. It proved fortuitous for McBride as well as his conversation with legendary A&R Executive Bruce Lundvall led to his signing with Mack Avenue Records for which this marks his twelfth release. The two previous studio recordings of Inside Straight are Kind of Brown (2009) and People Music (2013).

The set comprises all original compositions from band members in a sound that resembles the late ‘60s to mid ‘70s Blue Note recordings of the Bobby Hutcherson-Harold Land quintet with slightly different harmonics given that Land played tenor and Wilson is on alto and soprano.. All the tunes here excepting Warren Wolf’s rousing, soulful opening “Sweet Bread” with furious Allen drumming toward the end, have appeared on one of the studio albums, but the entire recording is swinging, harmonically focused post-bop, honoring tradition while forging a path forward. We hear another of Wolf’s tunes in his feature for the vibraphone, “Gang Gang,” which also features a spirited drum-bass conversation two thirds in.

Steve Wilson contributes a, in McBride’s words, “a beautiful portrait” of Maya Angelou with “Ms. Angelou,” a gorgeous ballad that delivers with his signature soprano as the band supports in restrained fashion with sensitive solos from Martin, and Wolf. This, as does Wilson’s playing throughout, show why is such a highly sought-after sideman. The remainder of the compositions owe to McBride, two of which are also tributes. “Uncle James” is for James Williams, with pianist and member of Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, who passed in 2004. It features Wilson’s extended, ferocious alto soloing. The other is “Shade of the Cedar Tree (for Cedar Walton), both of which are showcases for the vibes wizardry of Wolf and the brilliant pianist Martin, conjuring some of the work that Walton and Hutcherson did with the Timeless All Stars.

The other two pit McBride more clearly in the leader role, as he keeps the start and stop rhythms in check on the rapidly shifting angular “Stick and Move,” a kind of updated “Salt Peanuts,” featuring another vibrant bass-drum dialogue. McBride also leads in the hard swinging “Fair Hope Theme,” a tune filled with exciting flourishes from all members, another with Wilson on soprano (playing aggressively on this one) as he plays alto on all others. This is not to single out just one musician as Wolf, Martin, Allen, and McBride, to use McBride’s expression, also have their “chops up” through the entire set.

1. Sweet Bread (12:02)
2. Fair Hope Theme (13:42)
3. Ms. Angelou (10:03)
4. The Shade of the Cedar Tree (8:19)
5. Gang Gang (14:55)
6. Uncle James (10:58)
7. Stick & Move (9:52)

Christian McBride: bass
Steve Wilson: alto & soprano saxophones
Warren Wolf: vibes
Peter Martin: piano
Carl Allen: drums

Live at the Village Vanguard | HIGHRESAUDIO

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