Christian McBride, Mark Whitfield and Nicholas Payton
The Jazz Standard
New York, New York
September 4, 2008
Fresh from a recent busy weekend at the Detroit International Jazz Festival where he was artist-in- residence, bassist/composer Christian McBride was back on his home turf in Manhattan with his familiar sidemen, guitarist Mark Whitfield and trumpeter Nicholas Payton. Familiar too were the friendly confines of the Jazz Standard with a host of fellow musicians in the house to spur the trio on as they lit into the quick, complex lines of McBride's composition dedicated to George Duke, whom he had worked with six years ago.
Either the trio has rehearsed the tune until it's in their DNA or they are exceptionally gifted sight readers and both may be truebecause they played with astonishing precision, effectively linking and missing nary a note nor a nuance. Upon establishing their impeccable timing, each took a swift excursion through the changes, and here was the opportunity to witness their singular extension of the song's harmonic potential.
Few musicians utilize the full expanse of their instrument as well as McBride. Even when sliding effortlessly from the top to the bottom of the bass, his notes are fully formed with a near-perfect order and logic.
On Payton's "Let It Ride," the trio let it rip. Payton often plays with a smooth, relaxed style, as though breezing through a well-learned exercise, but there are moments of sudden explosion from his horn that can snap a listener's neck, jerking it with celerity into a responsive, irresistible rhythm. Whenever he let loose with an unexpected blast of sound, McBride and Whitfield were ready with their own responses, riding the melody for a measure or two before returning it to Payton for a conclusive finish.
In this musical context, familiarity breeds not contempt but, rather, contemplation, and the trio thoughtfully toyed with a tune that was a mixture of genres, evoking everything from Miles Davis' Bitches' Brew to the stunning eruptions of James "Blood" Ulmer, which Whitfield executed with relative funky ease. His solo ran the voodoo down and then added an array of such colliding, screeching chords that even Jimi Hendrix would no doubt have taken notice.
While guiding the other two, McBride alluded to a variable songbook of fragments: a bit of an African- American nursery rhyme, with of intimation of "Shortnin' Bread," and then a nod to Americana with a "Popeye the Sailor Man" riff.
As the trio brought the second set to a close, their incomparable synchronicity was again evident, Payton's bluesy, incisive intonations infusing the collective blend with just the right amount of edginess to make it an easy call to hang around for another set. Besides, this was a night when the Republican National Convention would monopolize the airways. Why listen to McCain when you can swing with McBride?