How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Talk about bringin' da funk. Christian McBride and his ensemble of regular band members and special guests brought their A game to Tonic on January 3 and 4, 2005. McBride, well known for his jazz chops and frequent collaborations with Pat Metheny and Chick Corea (among others), has never been one to shy away from his influences. Live at Tonic, a three-disc collection recorded at the downtown New York nightspot, is at its heart a funk album, at times chugging along on pure energy.
Each night's first set (disc one comprises the best takes of both first sets) featured the Christian McBride band on its own, performing the leader's compositions. McBride, Geoffrey Keezer (keys), Ron Blake (sax), and Terreon Gully (drums) are a malleable unit that's capable of playing everything from bebop to straight funk to renditions of pop songs by McBride's former employer, Sting. Here, they are for the most part electrified, feeding off the energy of the crowd. The group is as tight as ever, hardened by constant touring. McBride has kept this band together for a long time, and it shows. But this is not just another show. This one has that something, that indescribable feeling that this was the night to catch the Christian McBride band.
The crowd may very well have been the X-factor that pushed this recording over the top. Even when they aren't heard, they are always felt. The raw energy of the night seeps through the speakers along with the music, which is a tribute to the recording method used (read: nothing was touched up). It makes me wonder why artists don't more frequently eschew the more subdued and intellectual jazz club setting for night clubs like Tonic.
The second and third discs consist of McBride, Gully and various special guests jammin' and groovin'. Each tune is completely improvised, with McBride laying down a groove and everyone else following his lead. The guests are for the most part crossover artists of some sort: Charlie Hunter, Jason Moran, Jenny Schienman, DJ Logic, Eric Krasno, Scratch (of The Roots), and Rashaan Peterson. And that's what makes this album so fun. Each artist is given free reign, and given the broad confluence of influences and styles, what emerges is a tasty gumbo that you just can't get enough of. Directions change in the middle of jams to accommodate new guests. And the crowd responds to every nook and cranny in the music, nourishing the musicians late into the night.
If you're looking for straight jazz, this album won't do it for you. But it's a worthwhile and refreshing shot of life for listeners with broader interests. McBride and Co. certainly accomplish what they set out to do, and Live At Tonic comes highly recommended.
Track Listing: Disc 1: Technicolor Nightmare; Say Something; Clerow's Flipped; Lejos De Usted; Sonic Tonic;
Hibiscus; Sitting On A Cloud; Boogie Woogie Waltz.
CD2: See Jam, Hear Jam, Feel Jam; Out Jam/Give It Up Or Turint Loose; Lower East Side/Rock
Jam; Hemishphere Jam; Bitches Brew; Out Jam/Via Mwandishi; Mwandishi Outcome Jam; The
Comedown (LSD Jam).
CD3: E Jam; Ab Minor Jam; D Shuffle Jam; D Shuffle Jam (part 2).
Personnel: Christian McBride: electric and acoustic bass; Geoffrey Keezer: piano and keyboards; Terreon
Gully: drums; Ron Blake: tenor and soprano saxophones and flute; Charlie Hunter: guitar;
Jason Moran: piano; Jenny Schienman: violin; DJ Logic: turntables; Scratch: beat box; Eric
Krasno: guitars; Rashaan Peterson: trumpets.