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Christian McBride: Getting the Inside Straight

Esther Berlanga-Ryan By

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If we think about it for a little while, it's possible to believe that there is something almost mystic and undeniably powerful about jazz. The way it developed through the years and its constant ignition-like energy; the creativity of those who lead the way and those who continue the journey today; the improvisation that takes over souls and willingly delivers its magic for an amazed world to listen.

Jazz is a growing teenager whose future is as wide and vast as the horizon that lies before its tapping feet. Looking back, one also realizes that nothing you ever heard before can quite be compared to anything you are hearing today, for jazz is a never-ending adventure, and part of its ongoing, boundless imagination gently rests its head on a past so brilliant that the mind can only welcome what the heart feels...and that can only be described with music.

That is when Christian McBride comes in handy. His versatility has been praised and admired for years, making it seem as though the 37-year-old bassist extraordinaire should be in his late seventies by now. He has mastered an instrument that for many is the absolute essence of jazz, guilty of giving it a sense of unity and control. The former Juillard student's work with a bow is a simple, and rather delicate indication of just how deep his artistry really goes.

Leave it to the bassist to show you the way to musical perfection. And better yet, leave it to him to show you a good time while listening to his new straight-ahead band, Inside Straight, with Carl Allen on drums, Eric Reed (a most celebrated side man for Wynton Marsalis) at the piano, Steve Wilson (Dave Holland Big Band) on sax and Warren Wolf Jr., on vibes, completing this faultless circle that he has created for his new studio project, Kind of Brown (Mack Avenue Records, 2009).

Some may think Ray Brown and maybe Paul Chambers while listening to a still-young-enough Christian McBride, but the Philly native is truly his own artist, and always has been. At this point in his career, he does not need the comparisons that many still keep trying to impose on him. Kind of Brown is nothing but an unnecessary proof of greatness—something to listen to while getting ready to admit that maybe, just maybe, McBride is one of the best things that has ever happened to jazz in particular, and music in general.

All About Jazz: I have heard a little bit about the process of coming up with the name of Inside Straight. Tell me about that.

Christian McBride: [Laughs] Yeah...Two years ago I was hanging out in the Village Vanguard one night, and I realized that I hadn't played there in 10 years! And any jazz musician worth his salt should be playing the Village Vanguard. So I asked Lorraine Gordon, the owner of the club, if it would be okay if I came back, and she said, "Of course it would be okay, I'd love for you to come back, but you know what we do down here. I don't want that band that you usually play with here, that is not a band for the Village Vanguard," talking about the Christian McBride Band. I said "I know, I know, I'll put a band together just for this gig." So I called Steve Wilson, Warren Wolf, Eric Reed and Carl Allen, and we went down there and played, and it turned out to be such a successful week, musically, commercially, financially, that we were all happy.

Everybody was happy, Lorraine was happy, we had a full house crowds for each show for six nights in a row...The writing was on the wall, I had to keep the band together, and all the guys on the band wanted to keep on playing together, people who came for the show wanted me to keep the band together, there were a lot of people from different record labels that were interested, and even they said "look, whether we sign you or not, make sure you keep this band together." So it was overwhelming. I didn't think I was going to be able to keep the band together, because everyone in the band has their own projects, especially Eric Reed, Carl Allen and Steve Wilson.

Christian McBrideSo it took us almost a year to play together again, but we finally got some gigs booked, and that's when we played the Monterey Jazz Festival, and this is also right before we went into the studio to record Kind of Brown. So we were in Monterrey, and we were listed as the Christian McBride Quintet, and you know, every jazz band in the world with five guys is called a quintet. It's boring. There's no creativity whatsoever. For all the creativity jazz musicians have when it comes to making music, we have no creativity when it comes to naming our bands! It's always such and such quintet, such and such quartet, such and such trio...oh man, so boring. So what could we name our band?

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