Christian McBride: Here Comes McBride
McBride has also enjoyed his soon-to-be-completed tenure as Creative Chair for Jazz with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association. "It's been a fantastic four-year run. It's really been a dream gig," the bassist beams. "I get into a think tank and dream about projects I'd like to put together and I would say that the majority of the stuff I was able to dream actually happened, like working with James Brown. We did the Mingus Epitaph. We did a big tribute to Horace Silver, which I think was one of his last public appearances. We did a big tribute to Ray Brown. We had a Miles Davis-Gil Evans tribute night, where we had Terence [Blanchard] and Nicholas [Payton] play and Miles Evans [Gil's son], too. Vince Mendoza conducted the members of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. So it's been a fantastic run doing all of that kind of stuff out there. I even wound up being Queen Latifah's musical director for the summer. When she put out her second jazz album, we had her play at the Hollywood Bowl and since she was, as she put it, 'just a baby at this jazz stuff,' she had me be her music director for the whole summer."
In the beginning of the year to come McBride will be concentrating on touring with Inside Straight. The group, whose name was chosen from audience contest submissions at a performance by the band at the 2008 Monterey Jazz Festival, succeeds the leader's eclectic ensemble, the Christian McBride Band (CMB), which he describes stylistically as "an 'all in' bandyou know kind of a little bit of everything." Of the new unit he says, "I just felt that after nine years with CMB I wanted to do something that was a little more clearly straight-ahead, more focused in dealing with one hundred percent acoustic music and coming out of the tradition." The band's debut recording, Kind of Brown, features saxophonist Steve Wilson, pianist Eric Reed, drummer Carl Allen and the phenomenal young vibraphonist Warren Wolf.
"The whole band sort of centers around him," McBride says proudly of the youthful mallet man, who he first met when Wolf was a 20-year-old student at Jazz Aspen. "He played like that back then," the bassist exclaims. "He knew all of my music. He had all of my CDs up unto that point and he knew almost every song off of those CDs so I thought, 'Man, this guy is serious!' I told him then that one of these days we would play together. That it might take a little while, but I'm going to make sure that you and I get to play together on a regular basis. So some years later, when we played the Vanguard, I called Warren and he's been the mainstay of the band ever since."
"Playing with Christian has always been one of my biggest dreams," Wolf says. "From the first time that I ever heard him, which was on an Antonio Hart record called [ironically] For The First Time and then from his first record called Gettin' To It. I've always admired what he does on the bass because he is a true monster. His timing, his rhythm and the way he walks. The basslines he walks, as far as choice of notes. He's always there. Plus it's very technical. He gets around the upright bass kind of similar to the way that most electric bass players play. And he is a wonderful electric bassist, too. You know he's very exciting. He puts on a good showalways making the crowd have a good time."
Wolf is certainly right about McBride always putting on a good show. For the week at the Vanguard, with pianist Peter Martin replacing Eric Reed, he had audiences whooping and hollering wildly at his continuous feats of technical wizardry, with a steady stream of his colleagues coming through each night to admire the intense swinging music. The bassist's humorous side was particularly well displayed on the last night of the Vanguard gig. He joked about being conflicted because Sunday night at the Vanguard is always a lot of fun because it's the night that traditionally the most musicians come out, but that since they don't pay to get in, it cuts into the band's bread, getting a big laugh from the packed house that included a slew of players.