It’s dizzying the numerous ways piano trios operate these days. And when the set-up happens to have a bassist leader it’s different again and sparks generally fly. Few are as swinging or as lively as the Christian McBride trio.
As anyone with a passing interest in jazz created over the last 25 years will well know, the Philadelphian is as good a bassist as you could dream of hearing. He’s on a huge number of records, staggering given he’s only 43, whether they have been on albums by Chick Corea, Brad Mehldau, Sting, Diana Krall, the list goes on, or his own records as leader pursuing straightahead, funk (a big interest), or jazz-rock with his own bands always making his presence felt keeping the groove going but not at the expense of the overall sound.
The trio thing is still in its early days but made a splash two years ago with Out Here. Going from strength to strength here on this amazingly joyful live album recorded at the Village Vanguard over three days during mid-December 2014, a place many feel is still the best jazz club in New York, itself synonymous with live recordings made on the premises whether by John Coltrane or Bill Evans or a host of other giants of the music.
It feels as if McBride has the audience in the palms of his hands here and there’s a riot of piano to begin with courtesy of the other ‘Christian’ in the band, Christian Sands, who McBride later introduces in his rich baritone voice is from “that booming jazz metropolis known as New Haven, Connecticut.”
In Ulysses Owens Jr, a former student of the bassist’s, McBride has found his very own Jeff Tain Watts, sharing the same thunderous sense of swing and attack as the ex-Branford Marsalis drum legend, summoning plenty of spirited interplay with the other two members, his terrier-like instincts chasing bass and piano lines like he’s never going to get left behind.
Opening with a Wes Montgomery piece ‘Fried Pies’ followed by a warm band introduction from McBride as mine host full of bonhomie, a punishingly rapid version of JJ Johnson’s ‘Interlude’ and then a Christian Sands piece ‘Sand Dune’ you’ve just got to switch off and let the warmth and skill of this high performance band wash all over you. There’s no point in sitting around analysing it, it’s like stepping into a bath: the heat takes over, it’s that feeling.
The audience go quiet for the soppy romance of a well delivered version of ‘The Lady in My Life’ the Rod Temperton song Michael Jackson more or less made his own on Thriller, Sands setting the interpretation up very silkily. Later the patter patter, scamper scamper of ‘Cherokee’, dramatic turn of affairs on ‘Good Morning Heartache’ and then the party really begins with the big beat of ‘Down by the Riverside’ and fun take on ‘Car Wash’ the hand claps ringing out all around the storied club. Rose Royce never sounded anything like this! Simply a pleasure to press repeat.
Released on 18 September
- Published: Sun 30th Aug 2015 16:45:47
Recorded live in Poitiers and Argenteuil at seven months’ distance in 2012-13 Time Before and Time After is a solo violin album.
It sounds at first blush like classical composition but it’s not. Here composer and performer are one and the same, the only time before the sum of the player’s collected experience and talent, the rest unfolding in the moment.
Solo violin albums are rare these days so this is again of interest from a novelty point of view although there’s nothing gimmicky about this album. Pifarély is a marvellous player and I can think of only a few players, for instance like the American player Mark Feldman (heard this year fleetingly in the context of Chris Potter’s Undergound Orchestra) who can produce the same kind of acute insights however you choose to categorise the effects achieved.
Pifarély, who has been known over the years for his work with Louis Sclavis, Marc Ducret and going back a bit Mike Westbrook, chooses for his title a line from TS Eliot’s Four Quartets. All but one of the tracks are dedicated to distinguished writers, poets mainly – Mahmoud Darwish, Fernando Pessoa, André du Bouchet, Henri Michaux, Jacques Dupin, Paul Celan, Juan Gelman and Bernard Noël – and there is an aestheticism to the album not only in the titling, an intellectualising that in no way hinders enjoyment. The final track makes a fleeting reference to the art of the jazz standard as ‘My Foolish Heart’ proceeds to be dismantled almost distractedly, lovingly put back together again to somehow enhance its basic features while adding the improviser’s own highly distinctive thoughts. While the atmosphere is unyielding the mood is quite uniform stylistically, occasionally diverting say on ‘Gegenlicht’ into something somehow Arabic-sounding that a player like Rabih Abou-Khalil (who Pifarély appeared with on the 1998 album Yara) might come up with via scalar episodes and a hypnotic circular unwinding of itself that is somehow resolved intuitively.
Bittersweet tonalities punctuated by jostling staccato phrasing, or lovely legato reveries (the latter for instance on ‘L’air soudain’ the third track) buzz into view and there is plenty of brutal power at Pifarély’s disposal however transformed into swooping chordal haikus.
You might have to decide if what you are hearing is a collection of wordless soliloquies or the natural expression of extended cadenzas taken to the nth degree. There is certainly a declamatory power and exacting rumination in all the pieces no matter how abstract they become that keeps the atmosphere taut and intact. I’d enjoy this probably even more hearing it in concert (incidentally you can’t hear any applause even though these pieces were recorded at concerts, presumably this has been cut out in the editing). But there is plenty here to make you think that bit differently about the whole process of improvisation laid bare.
Excerpts from the album, which has just been released, are here
Dominique Pifarély, above. Photo: Jean-Baptiste Millot/ECM
- Published: Sun 30th Aug 2015 08:49:04