Bassist Christian McBride does everything right every damn time. I feel like I keep writing the same glowing recommendations of his music each time he comes out with a new album, but I suppose when a musician’s work reaches the level of excellence that McBride’s consistently achieves, it pretty much eclipses the need for anything I might put down in words, anyways. Live at the Village Vanguard has him teamed up with his trio of drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. and pianist Christian Sands, performing during their annual residency at NYC’s Village Vanguard. And essential to any live recording, it’ll bring your chair right up close to the stage.
“Cherokee” has been done plenty times before. It’s a song you know and one you’ve heard before, even if you can’t name the composer or the artists who’ve reached your ear with it previously. And yet McBride’s trio lays it down like he penned it the night before the show and told his trio, hey, let’s see where this takes us. To embrace a standard and make it sound brand spanking new and exciting, that’s no small thing and it honors the songbook of jazz’s lineage as well as the audience that paid good money to hear the trio perform. A rendition of trombonist JJ Johnson’s “Interlude” hits the gas pedal as hard as they do on “Cherokee” and is no less thrilling. They keep up the brisk pace on a rendition of guitarist Wes Montgomery’s “Fried Pies,” but keep to a tighter sphere of influence on the original composition.
McBride works in some gorgeous bass arco on a rendition of “Good Morning Heartache,” a ballad most associated with Billie Holiday. It’s a beautiful rendition of a beautiful song, and the way the trio gets the blues to hang in the air thick and heavy is a nice reminder that it takes more than just dishing out fireworks on a crack live performance recording. Further evidence of this is provided by pianist Sands and his composition “Sand Dune,” a song that takes it nice and easy and has an unassuming, casual nature, yet resonates as strongly as any of the up-tempo tunes courtesy of a melody that sparkles like crazy when it sees the first hint of light and keeps on shining when soloists take it into new, exciting directions. And it’s a similar attitude applied when the trio gets up with gospel on the old-school spiritual “Down By the Riverside.”
These days, it’s not unusual for a track on a new jazz recording to reference a song originating from a Michael Jackson album. These efforts tend to succeed, which is due as much to the talent pool of the modern jazz scene as it is Jackson’s unlimited talent for revealing the beating heart of a true pop song. McBride’s trio takes a nice slow spin on Thriller‘s “The Lady In My Life,” which provides a refreshing change in tempo, and also gives the trio the space to really let that melody breathe. This, however, pales in comparison to the big fun of their rendition of the theme song to the classic 1976 movie “Car Wash.” The thick groove and wide smile bring down the house and close out this excellent recording.
Your album personnel: Christian McBride (bass), Ulysses Owens Jr. (drums) and Christian Sands (piano).
Released on Mack Avenue Records.