Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christian McBride: The Good Feeling

Mack Avenue Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: The Good Feeling

Most musicians evolve as they gain experience. An individual who starts out playing with a polka group may end up in a modern big band; another might begin as a gospel church organist and become the pianist in a straight-ahead quartet. Generally, though, the core musical genre remains fixed.

That isn’t the case with bassist Christian McBride. At still shy of 40, he has participated in just about every possible musical setting. He enjoys — and is more than fluent — with every element of the jazz family tree, rock ’n’ roll, pop, soul and classical. He also performs with groups of all sizes, ranging from small-jazz units to concert and symphony orchestras.

And, as further proof that he’s a recognized expert by all elements in the musical world, his discography exceeds 300 albums during a 20-year professional career.

And yet this is his first recording as the leader of a big band.

This album’s 11 songs are a combination of favorite standards and original compositions. Whereas most composers and arrangers produce manuscripts that relate to their own personal “likes,” McBride almost always has a specific musician in mind: what he writes, and the style employed, reflect how that artist plays.

The opening track (“Shake ’n Blake”) reflects this approach, with saxophonist Ron Blake serving as the catalyst; likewise, alto saxist Steve Wilson wrought “Brother Mister.”

McBride’s Big Band approach even includes a vocalist, Melissa Walker, who is featured on “When I Fall in Love,” “The More I See You” and “A Taste of Honey.” Many of the great standards begin with “prologues,” but these days nobody sings them; Walker’s inclusion of the introduction to “When I Fall in Love” makes that old song very special.

The orchestra is a big band in every sense: five reeds, four trumpets and trombones, a pianist, drummer and McBride on bass, along with the vocalist. The unit is “classical” in format, but the sound achieved has the personality, exuberance and power of Christian McBride.

And that says it all.

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