The operative principle throughout is McBride’s dictum, “Most of what I enjoy doing is based in, around, and upon the groove; I want to hold down the fort, but have the ability to visit the roof if I want.” Conversations With Christian will assume its place as a masterpiece of the duo idiom.
On his eight CDs that precede Conversations With Christian, bassist Christian McBride has framed himself in ensemble contexts, most recently on the widely lauded 2009 Mack Avenue release Kind of Brown, which showcases the Inside Straight quintet (his return to the acoustic jazz format as a leader) and The Good Feeling, released in September, comprising a suite of well-wrought charts for an A-list 17-piece big band.
Although McBride’s leader and sideman c.v. includes no small number of pungent duos with various game-changers — to name two, McCoy Tyner and Jim Hall — he has heretofore refrained from devoting an entire recording to the genre. That discographical gap is now rectified with Conversations with Christian, on which the 39-year-old maestro places himself in the forefront of the flow on a duet apiece with “13 of my closest musical friends and cohorts”– singers Angélique Kidjo, Sting and Dee Dee Bridgewater; pianists George Duke, Eddie Palmieri and Chick Corea, as well as Dr. Billy Taylor and Hank Jones (who both passed away in 2010); violinist Regina Carter; trumpeter Roy Hargrove; guitarist Russell Malone; tenor saxophonist Ron Blake; and actress Gina Gershon. In the process, McBride unleashes the full measure of his already legendary skills, crafting as complete a portrait of his diverse interests-different vibrations of the blues and African-American church experience, bebop, the American Songbook, the Latin Tinge, the Freedom Principle, even comedy-as he has ever presented.
“I love and appreciate so many different styles and cultures,” he said in a news release. “Changing hats, going from one project to another, from a straight-ahead session to an R&B session to a pop session, has always fueled my activity. I try to put all those different sounds into one pot and make it a coherent, jazz-inflected sound.”
McBride first considered a proposal to do a duet project during the latter ’90s, when he was signed to Verve. “At the time,” he recalls, “I didn’t feel I was ready, or that it was the project I wanted to do. I had other things in mind. But as time progressed, I got to do other projects-putting together the Christian McBride Band and experimenting with a lot of different sounds and layers-and my focus returned to the duets idea.”
This renewed interest coincided with McBride’s involvement with the National Jazz Museum In Harlem (he is co-director), where he launched a still ongoing series of public talks and interviews. “My manager, Andre Guess, and my wife, Melissa Walker, noticed that I had a good rapport with almost everyone I interviewed,” recalls McBride, whose warmth comes through as palpably in conversation as in notes and tones. “They both suggested that it might be time.”
In conjunction with the project, McBride conducted videotaped interviews with each participant. Available as discrete podcasts since 2009, this series eventually led to the popular Sirius-XM radio show, The Lowdown: Conversations With Christian.
“I think the duet is a logical extension of the nature of the bass itself,” McBride says. “It’s the root. Joe Zawinul once stated that the drums are the father of all music, and the bass is the mother. I had a hard time disagreeing. The bass has the rhythm and the pulse, and also the notes and harmonies. That would seem to make it the ideal instrument for any sort of duet.”