REVIEW: Christian McBride and Edgar Meyer at Wigmore Hall

Christian McBride and Edgar Meyer

Christian McBride and Edgar Meyer
(Wigmore Hall, 18th March 2016. Review by AJ Dehany)

Christian McBride and Edgar Meyer’s current UK tour as a duo finds them with a refined and easy rapport. Revered by some as the best bass players in the world, they don’t need to prove anything. McBride is a five-time Grammy award winner, and in 2002 Meyer aced the MacArthur Award (the so-called ‘genius grant’). But to McBride “music is about people, not Grammys” and the prevailing mood of the concert is one of balance, and of generosity.

There was generosity of spirit - they can play anything seemingly with anyone; generosity with each other as players in a duo; generosity with material, allowing it to breathe; and generosity with their audience, whom they treated and indulged to an evening of true class, and who generously indulged them back.

Their Friday night concert at the salubrious Wigmore Hall attracted a luminous audience including no less than Diana Krall and Elvis Costello, plus (overheard) “the entire bass class of the Royal College of Music” - making this a masterclass in the art of the bass - quite literally.

It’s rare to hear a duo of bass and bass, and unique with players of this calibre. The mood was relaxed, the bassmen confident and comfortable, intimate and unamplified. Most tunes they played took the format of one walking or vamping while the other usually bowed the themes and solos, then swapping over. The workload was carefully balanced across each tune and throughout the sets with each player generously featuring the other. Standards and ballads featured heavily, including moving accounts of Stella by Starlight and My Funny Valentine, the familiarity adding to the easy vibe.

The interplay of the players’ different but complementary styles was more challengingly showcased among the sharper corners of newer and less familiar works such as Ed Bruce’s Bass Duet No. 1 and pianist Ben Green’s Cap n’ Hook. Meyer, with his impressive classical background, is the more unusual soloist, with touches of ‘flight of the bumblebee’ glissandi that spasm up and down the neck. These embellishments can feel like extravagances rather than integral to the argument, whereas McBride’s soloing feels a bit more solidly crafted and developmental.

Half-way through the first set they surprised us with a “change of texture”, Meyer switching to piano with McBride bowing on bass, followed by a nautical jig played by Meyer solo. In the second set McBride played piano on his lovely ballad Lullaby for a ladybug followed by his own solo bass spot that segued into Fly me to the moon. Unexpected, but in no way irrelevant to the masterclass.

Generous, balanced, relaxed, the concert nonetheless never felt over-polite. They picked up the pace to close with Meyer’s funky Barnyard Disturbance (”and that’s just what it sounds like!”). The hall acoustic was clear as a bell on the ballads and bowing, but in the up-tempo moments could become cluttered up with the unamplified instruments’ rattle of fingerboards.

They returned for an encore with a soothing, relaxed reading of Miles’s All Blues slightly breaking their promise to “take us home with plenty funk” but restoring the impeccable balance of the evening, the classy sense of generosity.

This concert was reminiscent of those Rubin vases, where depending on how you squint the figure and background shifts between faces and a vase, while magically remaining both. You could focus on either McBride or Meyer whether soloing or walking and have a tremendous experience. Hearing both together was magic.

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