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Christian McBride Big Band - The Good Feeling (2011)


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In a way, Christian McBride has been working on this big-band project all along.

The talented jazz bassist's interest in this format began almost 20 years ago when he crafted the still-fonky “Bluesin' in Alphabet City" for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, under the direction of Wynton Marsalis. A new version—which, dare I say it, is fonkier still—can be heard on The Good Feeling, connecting the dots from that long-ago spark to this Mack Avenue release, issued on Tuesday.

Elsewhere, McBride reimagines the lengthy set piece “Science Fiction," originally included on 2000's Sci Fi, and closes things out with a new take on “In A Hurry," this smoking, solo-stuffed excursion originally found on Gettin' to It, his well-remembered 1995 debut as a leader. Loyal fans will also recall “Brother Mister" from McBride's Kind Of Brown project in 2009.

There are, of course, changes throughout—some subtle, others a crashing delight. Altoist Steve Wilson, for instance, is given the well-deserved new spotlight in this edition of “Brother Mister." But there is the sense that this record has been percolating for some time and, like most worthwhile things that are given that chance, The Good Feeling is far better for it.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Christian McBride's 2003 release 'Vertical Vision' reminded us of Weather Report, even before we heard the album's smokin' reading of “Boogie Woogie Waltz."]

Meanwhile, McBride has constructed a brilliantly cohesive 17-piece band featuring saxophonists Ron Blake, Loren Schoenberg and Wilson; trumpeters Frank Greene and Nicholas Payton; trombonists Steve Davis, Michael Dease and Douglas Purviance; pianist Xavier Davis; and drummer Ulysses Owens, among others. Together, they present six originals to go with five standards, though none of them is so rote as to become a distraction from the album's broader ebb and flow.

McBride moves with confidence and purpose from a brawny, Count Basie-ish bounce on “Broadway" through to his ambitious, nearly 12-minute tone-poem “Science Fiction." This group is just as adept at a trio of showcase ballads for Sarah Vaughan-inspired vocalist Melissa Walker (McBride's wife, by the way), as it is the torrent of call-and-response sax and brass that closes things out during “In a Hurry." McBride displays a canny ability with the warmly inviting ensemble charts to surround Walker on Bobby Scott's “A Taste of Honey," but also has the gumption to turn up the heat for a scalding post-bop romp like “The Shade of the Cedar Tree"—also, by the way, originally included as part of McBride's debut for Verve.

One of McBride's more memorable initial forays into long-form composition arrived with 2008's The Movement Revisited, a five-part suite dedicated to four of the major figures of the Civil Rights movement—Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But that piece, for all of its emotional heft, only hinted at the memorable assurance McBride has attained here as a leader.

In the end, this particular good feeling is shared by anyone who still longs for challenging, forward-looking big band music.

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