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Christian McBride & Inside Straight: People Music

J Hunter By

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Musicians create bands for many things: To gather like-minded artists together, or to achieve some grand artistic vision; Christian McBride created Inside Straight to get a gig. It seems Village Vanguard owner Lorraine Gordon loved McBride but wouldn't book him with his regular, fusion-heavy outfit—or, as Gordon put it, "that rock 'n' roll band." Necessity is the mother, as they say, so McBride built Inside Straight. The thing is, he might have overreacted a tad, because the group's first release Kind of Brown was pure vanilla from end to end. Thankfully, McBride found the right mix of spices in time for Inside Straight's follow-up People Music.

Big piano chords and bigger drums announce the arrival of the opener "Listen to the Heroes Cry," and it's only milliseconds before altoist Steve Wilson and vibes master Warren Wolf yank us into a world that recalls Horace Silver at his mammoth height. Wolf flies formation with Wilson on the first chorus, providing a keyboard harmonic that lets pianist Christian Sands roam free, but Wolf doesn't hang with the pack long. His opening solo shows assertiveness and possession, and he ramps these qualities up even as the band gives him room to flex his muscles. Wilson keeps the Blue Note vibe going with Wayne Shorter range and an attitude that screams, "Bring it!" This piece simply struts, and so do these players, even when they get quiet for McBride's own scrumptious spotlight moment.

Sands isn't the regular keyboardist for Inside Straight, just like Ulysses Owens, Jr. isn't the regular drummer, but they fit in seamlessly on "Listen" and the bopping fun that is "Dream Train." Mind you, the people they were subbing for are no slouches. Drum icon Carl Allen is the polar opposite of Christian McBride Band trapper Terreon Gully, in that Allen is as trad as they come. He keeps the urban cruiser "Gang Green" bubbling as Peter Martin's rolling piano figure gives Wilson and Wolf's work extra buoyancy. Martin comps and counters on "Ms. Angelou" adds depth and color to McBride's love letter to another artist, while Allen's rolling and tumbling kicks up the fun on "The Unusual Suspects."

That Wilson burns like napalm on the rousing "The Movement, Revisited" and the uber-slick "Fair Hope Theme" is no surprise. For an Old School alto sound, Wilson's one of the best in the game, but the real revelation here is the young Wolf who is clearly in his element. While he evokes the West Coast coolness of the Modern Jazz Quartet on Aaron Diehl's Mack Avenue debut The Bespoke Man's Narrative, Wolf lets his inner wolverine out on People Music, swinging for the fences on "Gang" and attacking "Dream Train" like a charging bull.

McBride could always play trad, but he's been such a renaissance man that trad was never a priority. Still, a job opportunity focuses everyone's mind in this economy. By expanding its sound for People Music, McBride has Inside Straight perfectly focused.

Track Listing: Listen to the Heroes Cry; Fair Hope Theme; Gang Gang; Ms. Angelou; The Movement, Revisited; Unusual Suspects; Dream Train; New Hope's Angel.

Personnel: Christian McBride: bass; Steve Wilson: alto sax; Warren Wolf: vibes; Christian Sands: piano (1,7); Peter Martin: piano (2-6,8); Ulysses Owens, Jr: drums (1,7); Carl Allen: drums (2-6,8)

Title: People Music | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Mack Avenue Records

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