43-year-old bassist McBride is of course something of a prodigy, already a world-renowned bandleader and collaborator with Dr Billy Taylor, Sting, Pat Metheny, Wynton Marsalis, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin and George Duke. And his current trio, featuring pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. (two of the great jazz names right there), swings its butt off, exploring standards, gospel, soul and pop with a light touch and very strong blues feeling. There are no odd-time signatures or ‘dark’ textures here, just brilliantly-performed, tightly-structured, crisply-recorded good-time jazz, recorded live at the beloved Village Vanguard in New York in front of an enthusiastic crowd.
McBride plays the blues superbly, with vibrant call-and-response lines and blinding execution, particularly on a resplendent ‘Down By The Riverside’. His beautiful bowed melody on ‘Good Morning Heartache’, shrouded in eerie ambient effects courtesy of Owens Jr’s floor tom and cymbals, is one of the album’s highlights. Owens Jr. also impresses with an incredible display of nimble brushwork on a lightning-fast ‘Cherokee’, whose famous melody is only referred to once by pianist Sands. Sands also shines on JJ Johnson’s ‘Interlude’, originally from Cannonball Adderley’s Domination album, with a shaking and shimmying solo that brings the house down. But perhaps the standout is a surprisingly faithful version of Michael Jackson’s ‘Lady In My Life’, perfectly bringing out the beauty of composer Rod Temperton’s melody. And even the closing disco/jazz take on ‘Car Wash’ shouldn’t work but does, courtesy of McBride’s deep grooves and Sands’ ingenious chicken-scratch piano.
On a gloomy autumn evening in London town, I put on Live At The Village Vanguard and was immediately transported to an exciting night of jazz in the heart of NY. In this era of Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn’s tangential explorations, it’s not exactly cutting-edge piano jazz (though one gets the impression McBride’s trio could easily go in that direction too), but it cheered me up instantly and easily maintained interest for over an hour. That’s pretty rare these days and great news for recorded jazz. Highly recommended.
Live At The Village Vanguard is out now on Mack Avenue.