Better known as a virtuoso bassist who has performed with everyone from Kenny Garrett to Diana Krall, Christian McBride the arranger and big band leader comes of age on this superb outing that name checks the modernist greats of the 1960s, but adds something fresh into the mix and demonstrates a true flair for adventurous larger ensemble performance. Among a host of young musicians, the participation of altoist Steve Wilson, tenorist Ron Blake and the vocals of Melissa Walker make this a special treat. Stylistically, this big band owes a debt of gratitude to the pioneering work of the Thad Jones and Mel Lewis band, and it takes just as many chances in terms of the repertoire and treatment.
DJs have immediately picked up on the delicious reading of Wes Montgomery’s ‘Full House’, and Rodney Jones on guitar does a fine job of communicating the vibrancy of the original with soul-jazz heaven guaranteed on a full swinging interpretation. This writer has his own favourite in a sumptuous take on McCoy Tyner’s opus, ‘Sahara’, and the free from intro, then develops into an expansive modal piece with lengthy brass soloing and some fine flute work from Wilson. That modal feel is continued on piano on the ballad ‘I Thought About You’, with a lovely restrained trumpet solo from Brandon Lee. Vocalist Melissa Walker impresses on ‘Upside Down’, not the Chic organisation classic for Diana Ross, but rather a lively Latin-influenced number where Walker comes across as a composite of Carmen Lundy and Sarah Vaughan, but with just enough to differentiate her voice.
Baptist church spirit overwhelms the listener on hearing ‘Used Ta’ Could’, and this is skilfully evoked by use of hand claps and solo saxophone, with Lalo Schifrin’s masterful arrangements possibly influencing McBride here. Elsewhere, crisp Basie-esque horn arrangements hint at a band leader who has closely studied the masters, but is now fully ready to make his own imprint on the art of big band jazz.
Quite simply one of the most enjoyable new jazz albums of the year and every repeated listen yields new pleasures.