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Christian McBride Throws Down

By Published: May 23, 2006

AAJ: And it's because Terreon Gully rocks drums so much like Bernard Purdie... so it's safe to say that you ARE familiar with that record?

CM: I think that any person who claims for themselves to be a fan or R&B or soul music, they kind of have to know that album. I think that's one of the seminal live albums of all time and of course the album that went along with that, Aretha Franklin Live at Fillmore West. Those two albums I think are just two classics.

AAJ: There's another live album it brought to mind: Les McCann Live at Montreux. What got me was, there's a moment on side four where Rahsaan Roland Kirk comes out and he begins blowing backstage and as he walks onstage he gets closer to the mike, you hear him cookin', like whatever's been boiling, he's about to drop in more hot pepper. Rashawn Ross' entrance on disc three sounds a whole lot like that.

CM: Well, I'll tell you, we had a whole lot of fun on that. I think the second night, which is disc three, that was more of a... the second CD was very experimental yet very much a jazz performance whereas the third CD was pretty much an all-out party.

Fred Sanford and "the fifth Beatle

AAJ: You've appeared on so very many great records, we want to give you the opportunity to reminisce about what must have been three of many highlights for you: The first is Jimmy Smith's Damn! (1995), his first recording for Verve Records in twenty years.

CM: Jimmy Smith was by far the real-life Fred Sanford. I don't think anybody on this earth—I'm almost willing to bet that Norman Lear got the Fred Sanford character from Jimmy Smith. He was a terribly funny, crotchety, grouchy, hilarious old man.

I remember he refused to play any song unless (producer) Richard Seidel went out and got him a new six-pack. So by the end of the day, at the end of every session, there'd just be a sea of beer bottles at the bottom of the B-3. So many people were on that CD... it was another one of those sessions that was a big party atmosphere; we didn't do any rehearsing, we just kind of went in there and worked out the songs right before we recorded them. As you know, the concept was originally to kind of recreate his old Blue Note jam sessions like The Sermon and things like that. But we had a lot of fun on those albums; I mean, Jimmy kept us in stitches the whole time, telling us stories and really just doing raucous things.

AAJ: Shifting the mood: The second is McCoy Tyner's What the World Needs Now: The Music of Burt Bacharach (Verve, 1997)

CM: I'll be honest: That CD, I'm actually not quite that fond of, because I think that was a really... It was in good faith but it was Verve's opportunity to try and make McCoy Tyner less African-rooted and make him little more mainstream. McCoy Tyner's music has always been coming out of and been influenced by Coltrane, it's been influenced by African and Indian influences, and his sound has always been about as singular as someone's sound can be.

I can remember when we all got the call, that McCoy Tyner's doing this Burt Bacharach album, we all kinda looked at each other going, 'Whaaaat? McCoy plays who?' We were all just kind of interested to see—we can't wait to see how McCoy interprets that.

Actually, the album probably could have worked had it not been with that orchestra. Had it just been the trio or small group, it might have come off a little better. But my personal opinion was that that album came out terribly schmaltzy, and I think that album should have been recorded with someone else. I think with someone else that album would have worked out perfectly. Just because of our passion and knowing McCoy Tyner's history, I personally didn't think that album worked as well as a couple of other albums I worked with him on, like Illuminations and Preludes and Sonatas. But you can't blame Verve for trying...

AAJ: And then another shift of mood, with The Philadelphia Experiment (2001)?

CM: I have fond memories of that album mainly because it was my first time getting to play with Ahmir (Thompson) again after, probably since high school I don't think I've had a chance to play with him. And Uri Caine of course was another guy I used to work while I was still in high school; as a matter of fact, we used to play in Joe Sudler's Swing Machine together. So it was kind of like a homecoming. I just knew right off the bat that this was going to be a fun, real loose, sloppy but happening kind of jam session. And I think Aaron Levinson and Andy Hurwitz did a good job, in the post-production they did a good job putting all of the music together. It's unfortunate we didn't get the chance to do too many live concerts behind that album. We only did two, one in New York and one in Philly. But I have a lot of great memories about session and the two gigs that happened from it.

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Download jazz mp3 “Clerow's Flipped” by Christian McBride