Christian McBride contemporary jazz Conversations with Christian jazz Mack Avenue Records music releases United States

Bassist Christian McBride teams up with others on CD “Conversations with Christian”

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.”

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.

Christian McBride jazz Mack Avenue Records releases United States

Bassist Christian McBride to release project featuring big band on Sept. 27, 2011

Bassist Christian McBride reaches another milestone with the release of The Good Feeling, his first big band recording as a leader and newest release for Mack Avenue Records, on Sept. 27. For over 20 years, McBride has appeared in numerous musical settings with just about any musician imaginable in the jazz as well as R&B and pop worlds. From playing with the likes of Milt Jackson, Roy Haynes, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny; to playing with and/or arranging for the likes of Isaac Hayes, Chaka Khan, Lalah Hathaway, Sting and the legendary James Brown, what has always been unique about McBride is his versatility. In addition to his work in the neo-soul arena with The Roots, D’Angelo, Queen Latifah and others, the Philadelphia native has also led his own ensembles: The Christian McBride Band, A Christian McBride Situation and his most recent group, Inside Straight (fresh off their critically acclaimed 2009 effort, Kind of Brown). There are many sides to the musical persona of Christian McBride, and The Good Feeling has him realizing another one: as the leader, arranger and conductor of his big band.
McBride’s first foray into the world of big band composing and arranging dates back to 1995, when he was commissioned by Jazz At Lincoln Center to write Bluesin’ in Alphabet City, featured on The Good Feeling and originally debuted by Wynton Marsalis & The Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra. Since that time he has composed a number of pieces for larger ensembles including The Movement Revisited, a five movement suite dedicated to four of the major figures of the civil rights movement: Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Putting a big band together is no easy task, but in this particular band, McBride feels fortunate to work with some of the most talented musicians in the jazz world. For his part, McBride feels that this process turned out the way he had hoped, with many musicians involved with whose work he is particularly familiar.
“[Trumpeter] Freddie Hendrix is one of the flagship guys in the big band, as is Frank Greene, along with trombonists Michael Dease and Steve Davis. (Steve and I go way back. He was one of my first calls). And the saxophone section was kind of a no brainer – Steve Wilson and Ron Blake – who have been the saxophonists in my last two working bands. I had to have those guys,” McBride says in a news release. “Now, one thing that seems to be my ‘Achilles heel’ with any band that I’ve had during my career is the piano chair, simply because everyone’s working all the time. But the X-Man, Xavier Davis, came in and did such a fantastic job.”
McBride’s interest in writing and arranging with a performer in mind is a trait that has been integral to the success of many great leaders of large ensembles, the most notable being the Duke Ellington Orchestra, with Ellington writing for specific musicians. McBride believes that philosophy works in his big band as well.
“Once you get the guys that you want, then you can write and arrange accordingly,” McBride said. “I’ve done that with all of my small groups. With the big band material, I had Steve Wilson in mind for Brother Mister; you’ve got Shake ‘n Blake that I wrote for Ron Blake. That song actually started out as a duo between he and I, but I thought it would work well for big band, so I just took the time to expand it; I just thought that song would be perfect for him. And I’m already hearing material that would be specifically suited for Michael Dease in the future. I think that’s what all the great band leaders have done – write music with the guys that you have in your band in mind. Because you know what will work.”