One might assume that bassist Christian McBride's KIND OF BROWN would be a tribute to Ray Brown. In fact, this music bears a strong resemblance to the late-'60s to mid-'70s Blue Note recordings of the legendary Bobby Hutcherson-Harold Land quintet. A new discovery in vibraphonist Warren Wolf, Jr., teamed with veteran saxophonist Steve Wilson, the wonderful pianist Eric Reed, and drummer Carl Allen makes McBride's quintet Inside Straight one of the more melodically tuneful and harmonically focused contemporary ensembles now playing. McBride is almost an equal in this company, putting aside his furious note playing for a more democratic role in an extraordinarily balanced small combo. The similarities to the Hutcherson-Land group are unmistakable, from the tick-tock rhythm and melodic line similar to Hutch and Herbie Hancock's classic composition "Blow Up" on "Brother Mister" to the steady swinger "Rainbow Wheel" and "Pursuit of Peace," with its probing basslines. The athletic and quirky "Stick and Move" is hard-charging bop at its best with Reed leading. McBride's role as a leader is more pronounced on "Theme for Kareem," an ultra-tight, very hip tune that has potential standard written all over it.
Christian McBride's 2013 studio album, People Music, is the bassist's fourth release on Mack Avenue Records and second with his quintet Inside Straight. Although the lineup has changed slightly, this is the same group of musicians that delivered the equally as stellar 2009 album Kind of Brown. Featured here are vibraphonist Warren Wolf, pianist Peter Martin, alto saxophonist Steve Wilson, and drummer Carl Allen, with drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. jumping on board for a few cuts as well. As with Kind of Brown, People Music features McBride in straight-ahead, acoustic jazz mode with a bent toward the expansive and soulful '60s and '70s recordings of the Bobby Hutcherson-Harold Land quintet.
This live Boston summit meeting between Ray Brown, Christian McBride and John Clayton was the logical outcome of several joint appearances, as well as an extension of a one-off bass troika track that McBride included on his first solo album. The idea of a bass trio on records probably would have been unthinkable in the primitive days of recording when Brown was coming up, but Telarc's fabulously deep yet clear engineering makes it seem like a natural thing to do. Whether pizzicato or bowed, whether taking the melodic solo or plunking down the 4/4 bottom line, all three perform with amazing panache, taste, humor, lack of ego, and the sheer joy of talking to and against each other beneath the musical staff. But if one has to pick out a single star, the choice has to be McBride, whose unshakeable time, solid tone and amazing ability to play his cumbersome bull fiddle like a horn stands out in astonishing fashion on the right speaker.
Christian McBride is not one of those strait-laced, down-the-line neo-boppers after all. Here, the prodigiously talented young standup bassist proves that he is also an astoundingly gifted electric bassist, and that '70s-vintage funk and soul are every bit as close to his heart as '50s and '60s hard bop. On electric, McBride weaves inventive countermelodies around tenor sax Tim Warfield's lead lines, taking Jaco Pastorius' technique a step further in sheer speed and the ability to play really nasty funk patterns.
This 1994 recording was McBride's debut as a leader, and it consolidated his place as the most eminent bassist of the mainstream youth movement. His big sound, relaxed time-feel, and keen harmonic sense all hearken back to the great bass players of the '50s, and his adroit bowed solos can recall the work of Paul Chambers. McBride has assembled some of his most talented peers here in various permutations, forming a tight rhythm unit with drummer Lewis Nash and inspiring strong contributions from trumpeter Roy Hargrove, tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman, trombonist Steve Turre, and pianist Cyrus Chestnut.