Christian McBride & Inside Straight - Fame Eludes Greatness

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Perhaps Christian McBride should have an affair with J.Lo, or punch Ashton Kutcher in the kisser, or sneak Lindsay Lohan out of rehab. They might be the only avenues that our infamous fame fed media, even here at HuffPo, might consider the top jazz bassist in the world today as ink worthy.

McBride, who, with his quintet, Inside Straight, which draws its name from his desire to get back to straight-ahead jazz music, performed at the Minaci Performing Arts Center in Hollywood, Florida last Saturday evening, is a major artery in the body of living jazz music.

The Philadelphia-born, Julliard-trained thirty-nine year-old shed the labels of prodigy and wunderkind years ago, moving on to play with some of the biggest names in contemporary jazz like Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Diana Krall, Roy Haynes, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Wynton Marsalis, Hank Jones, Joshua Redman, and the legendary bassist Ray Brown. He was the jazz director at the LA Philharmonic until turning the reins over to Hancock. He is a composer, band leader, and co-director of the National Jazz Museum.

Amazingly, even though he is the A-lister's A-lister for professional bassists in the jazz world, there are still a number of fans of the genre that still don't loft him up there with top players on other instruments, like Marsalis and Corea. This, even though they themselves have lent out a hand to pull him up on that pedestal many a time.

Let this review inform the rest of the world: Jazz is not your grandfather's music. Christian McBride and Inside Straight will set you straight on that subject. They play the living daylights out of the living art of jazz. Featuring a number of original compositions from McBride's latest album, "Kinda Brown" on the small Detroit label Mack Avenue Records, Inside Straight played straight ahead jazz with the passion of modern innovators.

Yet the quintet played with such a casual air that the resulting music, which is rich and complex, seemed so effortless. McBride smiles and looks incredibly relaxed even when he is playing some of his most intense work.

Saxophonist Steve Wilson is a legendary sideman who has played with Mingus, the Smithsonian Jazz Orchestra, Lionel Hampton and Chick Corea, to name a few.

Pianist Peter Martin, a native of St. Louis, who met Christian when he played with Martin's father at Stetson University was born in Deland, Florida, McBride told the crowd. Martin was the musical director and pianist for Dianne Reeves and arranged and played music for her Grammy Award-winning soundtrack to the motion picture; Good Night, and Good Luck (He also appeared in the film.) He has been a member of Chris Botti's touring band and in 2009 toured extensively with McBride.

Vibraphonist Warren Wolf Jr., who has been tapped with "rising-star" status, is the Mike Tyson of his instrument. Powerful, lightning-quick, Wolf often bypasses the more traditional multi-mallet playing for a driving performance with single-sticks that is intense, and puts a unique stamp on his style of play.

McBride's long-time drummer Carl Allen, who has played with Christian since their days as two legs of Benny Green's trio, has played with Freddie Hubbard, Jackie McLean, George Coleman and Phil Woods. McBride and Allen play with seamless exchange that comes with the long term creative associations that the two have shared over the years.

That McBride is a phenom is evident whether he is soloing or supporting. His hands fly over the bass intensely, or fingers slide from note to note. The audience becomes transfixed, especially during his solos, watching him with a certain measure of humble awe: The fusion of man and instrument as his hands dance out streams of thumping, soaring, singing sound on the strings.

Several times his bow came out, less common in a jazz performance than a classical one, to bring a whole dimension of sound out of the instrument that blends nuances of the classical and jazz into one.

Wolf was being touted, even by McBride, as a star on fire, which may be, but it would be nice to see a little more range and subtlety more frequently and a little less frequent use of the solo mallet driving his sound. It was a style note made more obvious by the encore, where McBride called friends Kevin Mahogany, the Kansas City jazz vocalist and legendary vibe player Gary Burton to come up and play with the band. Burton is credited for creating the four-mallet style of playing the vibraphone, and while it just may be the familiarity of that style of play, his depth and tone during the encore were a contrast to Mr. Wolf's more stark and driving play.

The Minaci Center for the Performing Arts, on the campus of Nova Southeastern University has excellent acoustics and is small enough that it gave the evening as much intimacy as larger concert halls can provide a quintet. It is still a shame, though, that South Florida lacks a larger jazz club that can provide a less clinical setting for the music.

Presented by Jazz South Florida, the evening's only low-light was the lengthy introduction by one of its members who waxed on about his personal life in jazz just a bit too long and reminded us all not to transmit germs by kissing strangers.

The majority of the audience though was quite elderly, and many seemed to be members of the jazz club promoting the event. While that lent a certain air of Jazz-as-aging-and-endangered-species to the concert, the bright spot off of the stage was that a few hundred of South Florida's aspiring young musicians from high school and local colleges and universities showed up to hear McBride's quintet. It was a hopeful sign of the music's future in a part of the state that turns out some of the best young jazz musicians found anywhere in the country, but lacks a lot of venues for them to play in when they emerge from academic music.

McBride reminded the audience that he would love to come back to South Florida more often, even though Jazz joins baseball as a long-under-appreciated entertainment here.

"You come up with $10,000, we'll be back any time.." he joked.

Let's hope that someone finds the $10K. McBride has the kind of musical life force that may breathe new life into jazz, and especially into the moribund professional jazz scene of South Florida.

It will be nice when McBride's name can join the modern masters as well. At the tender young age of 39, he is every bit as worthy of such accolades as the Marsalis clan and Pat Metheny.

My shiny two.

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