I have interviewed Christian McBride a few times over the years. The first time was when the double bassist (up there with Dave Holland, Ron Carter and John Patitucci as the greatest on the planet from the vantage point of today but not really known much beyond the talent-spotters then), was debuting on a major label in the mid-1990s with his album Gettin' to It.
We chatted about James Brown quite a bit. Christian was serious, even intense. The photographer got a moody monochrome shot in the corridor I recall. It looked good when the piece was published. The interview took place in the Grafton Hotel near Warren Street tube, in those days the hotel used mainly by Ronnie Scott's for putting up visiting Americans playing the club. Ronnie was still alive. I had started going a few years earlier blown away by Arturo Sandoval the first time I stepped foot in the place and it's still the same thrill every time you enter. The piece ran in Jazz on CD magazine long since discontinued. I've lost my copy of the article like so many but I'd like to find that one some time when I'm rooting around in old record shops who keep things like 1990s jazz magazines. These places do exist but it's pot luck even there. More recently, oh it's a decade ago, I interviewed Christian this time for Jazzwise by then very jazz-famous-globally on the phone. And he was warm, avuncular and laughed a lot. We chatted about Oscar Pettiford, a big influence on him, and his own piece 'The Shade of the Cedar Tree' which was on his debut. He told me about people studying it at college. Last time I saw McBride live was at an unusual two-bass concert with Edgar Meyer at the Wigmore Hall back in 2016 which was like watching mountaineers scale Mount Everest just for fun.
Cutting to the chase and bringing things up to date his part on the fine singer Jo Harrop's excellent The Heart Wants was one of the best moments of the year for me as a record listener in 2021. Live at the Village Vanguard reprises 'Cedar Tree' once again, the ''tree of life'' in question a pianist, Cedar Walton. The Inside Straight sound as the name partly suggests is a ''straightahead'' band which means driving bebop and hard bop routines, head, lots of blowing, connoisseur improvisation, great solos and it all swings like the very fuck because it is designed to and has to like Kismet. It is a very joyous experience listening to it. The audience sound from the Vanguard in New York (the world's greatest jazz club most authorities agree on) is special and there is a lot of warmth in the recording seeping from the walls and the spirit of all the people present. I haven't enjoyed a McBride album as much since Kind of Brown. You commit to jazz all over again listening to a record such as this. It dredges up lots of ideas and plans to dig into more in the idiom, actually not at all fashionable these days, but that does not matter a jot because what goes around… comes around. With drummer Carl Allen, saxophonist Steve Wilson, pianist Peter Martin and vibist Warren Wolf (Wolf slides under the alto on 'Cedar Tree' in a fine blend) the album includes a tribute to the great writer Maya Angelou and jazz titans James Williams and Walton himself. The only thing left to crave hearing this is to be there next time, some time, dream time, to hear the Inside Straight play the Vanguard. Wouldn't that be a thrill? Wilson's solo on 'Fair Hope Theme' is just one of the riches here. Linger long. SG
Christian McBride, top left, and Inside Straight. Photo: David Salafia