Sci-Fi and Beyond
It’s hard to say where it came from, but the old adage is that those who can’t make it in the “big time” usually end up teaching. But just go tell that to Christian McBride. Arguably one of the most accomplished and in-demand bass players of current vintage, McBride also spends a lot of time passing on his wisdom to an up and coming generation of jazz musicians. As artist-in-residence for Cuyahoga Community College’s 21st annual Tri-C JazzFest, McBride kept a busy schedule hanging with the youngsters and also appearing as guest soloist with the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra.
On Saturday, April 21st, it was McBride’s turn to take the spotlight for his own show, featuring a new band of personalities reflecting a diverse set of influences and experiences. A veteran of the bands of Roy Hargrove and Joshua Redman, pianist Peter Martin has done the mainstream thing, yet stirred up some revelatory funk on the Fender Rhodes. Another man in the tradition, saxophonist Ron Blake speaks eloquently on his tenor, but it was his slippery soprano work that really impressed. The ringer here was female drummer Camille Gainer, a bona fide powerhouse player with funk and soul roots and a lively stage presence. It all makes sense for McBride, given that he openly embraces Bird and Trane with the same fervor that he touts Weather Report, James Brown, and Stevie Wonder.
As Gainer’s funk cum Nawlins groove set up the old Spinners line “I’m Coming Home,” Ron Blake gave sport to “walking the bar” with a shouting tenor solo. On Fender Rhodes, Martin’s funky spot had him interjecting off beat accents with Gainer’s punctuations synchronized in tow. McBride picked up his bow and before long his wry sense of humor found him interpolating a quote from “Mama’s Little Baby Loves Shortnin’ Bread.” Riffing out an ending, McBride just couldn’t resist adding a few more allusions, this time to “Birdland” and Stevie’s “I Wish.”
The next few tunes would come from McBride’s latest album, Sci-Fi. One of the few swing tunes performed that afternoon, “Uhura’s Moment Returned” included Blake on soprano and a round of solos from all the main players. Steely Dan’s “Aja” took on new dimensions via McBride’s catchy reformation, moving effortlessly through some crafty changes in meter. Another McBride original, “Lullaby For a Lady Bug” cooled things down, its delicate melody bowed by the bassist. Then getting into a vivacious bossa groove, Blake’s soprano spoke at length before getting into some complex give and take with Martin.
Always the showman, McBride took the opportunity to introduce the band and engage in banter about recent additions to his book of material from the Weather Report era. As a final jam, he chose Jaco Pastorius’ “Havona” and Joe Zawinul’s “Boogie Woogie Waltz.” Gainer pumped it to the max here as McBride conjured up the spirit of Jaco, his own remarkable technique on the fretless electric weighing in without reproach.
While those in the crowd with more mainstream tastes may have found the groove to be a bit too intense and repetitive, more adventurous ears surely dug the vibes and had to tip a hat to McBride for choosing the path less taken. And who said fusion was dead?