REVIEW: Christian McBride Trio at Wigmore Hall

Christian Sands, Christian McBride, Ulysses Owens Jr
Photo from Mack Avenue Records

Christian McBride Trio
(Wigmore Hall, June 5th 2015. Review by Andrew Cartmel)

On Friday night Christian McBride and his trio played the curtain-raising gig for the bassist's residency at Wigmore Hall which will stretch into 2016. McBride is a four time Grammy winning bassist who has performed with Ray Brown (in the group Superbass) as well as with Chick Corea, Pat Metheny and Joshua Redman — Redman being a previous Artist in Residence at the Wigmore. McBride’s sixteen month residency at the hall may not be long enough, judging by the response of the audience on Friday night. After the gig one concertgoer said, “I’ve been listening to jazz for seventy five years, and that’s the best trio I’ve heard in my life.” Another quipped, “There are nine bass players in the loo...” here, doubtless, to pick up tips from the master.

The opening number Day by Day immediately presented a combo that was simultaneously tight and relaxed, with something of the feel of one of the great Oscar Peterson trios. On piano Christian Sands displayed an adroit, delicate, dancing lightness of touch, both intricate and solid, while drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. painted highlights with his cymbals. McBride played warm, honeyed bass, polished and sleek, launching into a very groovy solo which detonated a roar of approval in the audience.

Caravan saw Sands’s playing turn choppy and bass-heavy to mirror Owens’s staccato drumming. A high octane chase ensued, played at blistering speed with bell-like cymbals and a rocking, percussive bass under McBride’s lightning fingering. Sand Dune was an introspective, melancholy, gently lilting original by Christian Sands, with Owens on the brushes and McBride playing delicately and tenderly. Sands quietly built brief structures on the piano that dissipated, perhaps more like sand castles, coming and going as the tide washed them away in cycles. McBride’s lean bass went striding across the tune. The cool, elegant space of the Wigmore Hall, with its lucid acoustics, was a perfect home for the piece, and for this crack trio.

J.J. Johnson’s Interlude was cheerful and humorous, and fast with the group playing like laid-back lightning. It was an ensemble performance which managed variations in colour and tempo without the players separating for solos. They were like three racehorses dashing together in harness, and loving it. Finally they did separate and McBride’s fingering was an aural blur, while Sands played brief fills. Then Owens and McBride fell into conversation like two shady characters exchanging street-corner boasts. After that the trio reunited to explosive applause.

East of the Sun (and West of the Moon) had a towering sound with McBride’s bass enunciating the lyric and Owens swinging and swaying on feather-touch brushes, timed to perfection and creating great, relaxed momentum. Spirit lifting stuff. One day all jazz will be this happy. Soon McBride’s bass wasn’t just singing, but scatting. The relaxed tempo of Owens and Sands created great space for him to shine, like clouds parting to allow the sun through. But the evening’s highpoint was yet to come — Good Morning, Heartache, with McBride’s bowed bass creating unsettling ripples of sound. Owens’s padded sticks on the cymbals gave swirling brassy washes and Sands built house-of-cards runs on the piano. The ominous mood of the song gave rise to McBride’s most eloquent and expressive playing, virtuosic and vocal. Witchy and moving, this piece was bluesy, bruised and majestic. A masterpiece.

Is it too soon to nominate a gig of the year?

CD Review: Christian McBride's Inside Straight - People Music
Review: Joshua Redman and Christian McBride at Wigmore Hall in 2013
Review: Corea/McBride/Blade at the Barbican in 2012
Review: Christian McBride's Inside Straight at Ronnie Scott's in 2011

1 comment:

  1. I concur completely. I saw this trio in our joint hometown of Philadelphia a few months ago at Chris' Jazz and was blown away with how great they are. I hope to see them in NYC this summer and of course, the next time I am in London. Great to see the trio is in residence there. Again, they are superb.