REVIEW: Christian McBride's Tip City Trio at the 2017 Montreal Jazz Festival

Christian McBride's Tip City Trio


Christian McBride's Tip City Trio
(Monument National Ludger-Duvernay. 1 July 2017. Montreal Jazz Festival. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Why do people blather on about how much music there is which is "not jazz" at this festival? Enough already. Here's my response: there is a lot of VERY good jazz going on.

Example. It is a joy to be writing about Christian McBride's delightful new project. It is/has 'jazz' in its heart, head and feet. It radiates communicative power and ridiculously accomplished musicianship. It has optimisim in its core. As Will Lyman once wrote of another project of McBride's: "This music is unself-consciously traditional: it’s fun; it swings its ass off."

The clue is in the name. Tip City has more or less nothing whatsoever to do with a real place (with two "p"s) in Ohio, which derives its name from a nickname of US President William Henry Harrison. On the other hand, it has more or less everything to with a phrase used by two jazz pianists. Both of these gentlemen were originally from the southern states of the US, both were from the generation just before McBride, and both of them died far too early, in their 50s: Mulgrew Miller and James Williams. They used the phrase to describe music which really swings hard. For this project McBride has invited two gifted young players to join him and to follow in this ethos. This was apparently their twelfth gig as a trio.

It takes forward the tradition of the bass/piano/guitar trio of which a notable example was Ray Brown's with Monty Alexander and Herb Ellis - or later Russell Malone. McBride also follows in that very  'jazz' tradition of "bringing on" younger players -  eg Art Blakey being the most obvious example.

The pianist here is Emmett Cohen. McBride said he first heard Cohen, from Montclair NJ, when the pianist was just fourteen years old. (More about him here). The first thing I noticed was the bright right hand solo playing, pedal-less a la Red Garland, his delight in weaving counter-melodies, with deliberately 'out' notes like Martial Solal, but the rest of the set showed that his technical armoury is very well stocked indeed. He has also contributed compositions - which tend to show off the capacity of this trio to thrive beyond most known speed limits.

The guitarist Dan Wilson is from Akron OH and has recently been working extensively with Joey de Francesco. What I admired in his playing was again the urge to play melodically and propose all kinds of counter-melodies with ease, shape and balance. Wonderful player.

Christian McBride's capacity to inspire as leader is well-known. Here he creates an environment where it is as normal and natural to step forward into the limelight and shine as it is to step back from it, and to comp and to colour in for another soloist. And that - like every other aspect of last night's hugely enjoyable gig, was truly - deeply wonderfully jazz.

Applause for (L-R) Emmet Cohen, Christian McBride and Dan Wilson

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