It’s not simply his abundant virtuosity that has made Christian McBride the most in-demand bassist of his generation. McBride consistently combines his deft musicianship with an innate ability to communicate his enthusiasm to an audience-a warm showmanship that transforms his own passion into infectious joy. It comes across whether he’s leading his own bands; sharing the stage with jazz legends like Sonny Rollins, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock or Pat Metheny; accompanying pop giants like James Brown, Sting or The Roots; or collaborating with classical masters like Kathleen Battle, Edgar Meyer or the Shanghai Quartet.
Any time that McBride steps into the studio or onto a stage he plays what could be called “people music,” but it’s a particularly apt title for the second release by his hard-swinging acoustic quintet Inside Straight. Four years after Kind of Brown, the band’s acclaimed debut album, People Music (available on Mack Avenue Records) delivers a more road-tested, “lived-in” Inside Straight, able to dig deep while projecting that ebullient vigor that has become McBride’s trademark.
“People Music is my personal mantra as a musician,” McBride says of the title in a recent news release. “Sometimes jazz musicians can get too caught up in their own heads; they get so serious and so caught up in their creativity that they’re not bringing the people in. So I figure the best way to communicate is to let the people navigate where you should go.”
For Inside Straight, that inclusiveness extends to the name of the band itself, famously the result of a contest that generated more than 3,000 submissions from fans. But more importantly, as is evident throughout eight original tunes on People Music, that means balancing intense interplay with an exuberant personal expression that speaks directly to the listener.
“When you pull the people in, you can go anywhere as long as they feel like they’re a part of the ride,” McBride says. “That’s why Cannonball Adderley was always my hero-he always exemplified high artistry, but no matter how esoteric or abstract it could get, he still related to people. And I’ve always felt that this band plays ‘people music’.”
People Music features two slightly different incarnations of Inside Straight. Six of the album’s eight tracks feature the core lineup of McBride, saxophonist Steve Wilson, vibraphonist Warren Wolf, pianist Peter Martin and drummer Carl Allen. The other two tracks substitute pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr., who have performed extensively with the band when Martin’s touring schedule with Dianne Reeves or Allen’s duties as Artistic Director of Jazz Studies at Juilliard keep them away from the bandstand. Sands and Owens also comprise McBride’s new trio, which will make its recording debut later this year.
McBride contributes half of the repertoire for the album, but felt it was important to also feature pieces written by the other band members, all of whom are accomplished composers in their own rights.