Christian McBide's Inside Straight
(Ronnie Scott's, May 7th 2011, late set)
Is there anyone else out there like me, with a weakness for tales of perseverance receiving its reward?
The story starts two years ago, when Christian McBride, this week's Ronnie Scott's headliner, was last visiting London. He gave a masterclass at Guildhall School. He told the students how, as a seventeen year-old, he had got his first job with Freddie Hubbard's band: by learning how to play as many Freddie Hubbard tunes as he could find. Pianist Gabriel Latchin, one of the students in that masterclass made sure he heeded McBride's advice. What he's been doing in the past two years has been to learn a whole raft of Christian McBride tunes. Last night, with every seat in Ronnie Scott's taken for the late set, his moment came....
McBride: So what would you like to play?
McBride : You're our guest, you get to call the tune. It can be whatever you like.
McBride: (astonished): He wants to play one of mine. "The Shade of the Cedar Tree."
Latchin clearly enjoyed his moment on the last set of McBride's three-night residency at Ronnie Scott's, and acquitted himself fine in thee tune dedicated to Cedar Walton from the 2004 album Gettin' To It (above).
The 100 Greatest Jazz Albums site defines well what McBride is aiming at with the 2009 album "Kind of Brown" - and with the Inside Straight quintet: to produce: "upbeat, straight-ahead jazz with a strong bebop feel and swing." There have been changes in personnel since that album, but the spirit is the same. As an agenda, that may not be enough for some commentators. There were moments last night when the band settled back into an in-the-pocket swing tempo - the closer, Zawinl's Mercy, Mercy, Mercy a case in point, when the joy in communicating is its own fulfilment.
As McBride himself pointed out, the key relationship is that of bassist and drummer. and in Ulysses Owens Jr., McBride clearly has a feisty and positive sparring partner. Pianist Peter Martin plays with descriptive colour, and McBride was to be seen benignly at Martin's attempts to pull the first beat away from true, as if on a piece of elastic. Vibes-player Warren Wolf Jr. played punchily and challengingly, and alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw played and communicated well, but sometimes looks disconcertingly detached.
McBride as presence and charisma, and a highly persuasive approach to communicating melody. There are few tunes in the standards repertoire with gaps quite as gaping as those in "East of the Sun," so McBride's way to make the sustained notes sing, to hold the line, was masterly.
Support band the Sammy Mayne Quartet were at their best in "You're My Everything." Phil Robson on guitar as first soloist set the agenda by thinking radically yet subtly, flexibly yet teasingly across the beat, and throwing out a rhythmic challenge which next soloist Sammy Mayne duly picked up. Sam Burgess on bass gave a sprininess to the 3/4 version of "The Way You Look Tonight." Drummer Pedro Segundo, increasingly a treasured presence at Ronnie's, unfailingly brought out smiles from the band, and spontaneous applause from the audience each and every time he got a feature.