Here's the deal: I heard bassist Christian McBride's "Bluesin' In Alphabet City" for the first time on Brian Bromberg's Bass On The Broadband. Of course I loved it right away. Ahh, Big Band, just the way I like it. I was all over it, and wanted to know who wrote it, since the title had not struck me as familiar.
I dug in a little deeper and found McBride himself had actually composed this song and recorded it in 2011. Wow. Digging even deeper, I learned the album recently won a Grammy in the "Large Ensemble" category. I hadn't seen the Grammys this year, and - to the disservice of ears everywhere - the winners of categories like this are not front page makers when they prepare press releases the following day.
Immediately hooked by "Bluesin' In Alphabet City", I bought myself a copy of the album, slipped on my noise-cancelling headphones, and took McBride for a bike ride at about 2:00 in the morning. Oh, I know... this isn't your typical Jazz-listening environment, but I have been known to enjoy Big Band on the move, so...
First up was "Shake N Blake", a song to honour saxophonist, Ron Blake, one of McBride's long-time friends (and contributing album musician). It's a powerful, well blended mix of bass and horns that leaves an amateur (well, ME, to be precise) in awe of such musical chops. McBride says the song was originally written to be a duet, but that it blew up into a full, 16-piece arrangement. Listen for the smoking bass solo about two-thirds of the way in.
After this barn burner comes "Broadway", the 1940 tune written by Bill Bird, Teddy McRae, and Henri Woode. McBride and Company do a very nice version and the bass is talkin', that's for sure!
"Brother Mister" is a slick tune with a rich bass-focused arrangement. The drums boom and tap dance in the background, and the horns fill in all the tenor spaces. Every tastebud in your ear is completely satisfied.
"When I Fall In Love" is one of my most treasured and loved oldies, and this one features the delicious singing voice of Melissa Walker. The opening bass is a treat. The soft bowing lays down the red carpet on which Walker just floats in. Clearly my fave song on the album. So subtle and smooth.
"Science Fiction" is another McBride original from the year 2000. He says he was partly inspired by an early morning look at the stars and purple sky. At almost 12 minutes in length, it's a rich and varied number, thoughtful and sweeping, with incredible solos and unexpected tempo changes. Bar none, the most modern sounding of all the album's tunes... venturing a little bit into a kind of "prog jazz" hybrid genre. I love what happens at about 6:00 into the piece. Can a bass player be TOO good?
"The Shade Of The Cedar Tree" goes back to a more standard Big Band sound. McBride's bass is happy just bouncing along in the wake of the scorching horns!
"The More I See You" gives us more of Melissa Walker and some beautiful piano by Xavier Davis. Things heat up a bit when the full band joins in and Walker really takes off! I really loved the bassline in this one.
"I Should Care" is another one of those oldies I hold dear to my heart. I enjoyed McBride's version for its bass (how could I not?) but I think, in the long run, I will always prefer a more traditional version, with vocals. Maybe Julie London's version? But as an instrumental, McBride's rendition is still a nice addition to the lineup.
"A Taste Of Honey". McBride uses The Temptations version of this tune as his arrangement inspiration. Melissa Walker sings a hot vocal, and the bass/piano instrumental in the middle is to die for! A lot of soul floating around in this one.
"Bluesin' In Alphabet City" is the tune I picked up while listening to BOTB. Number Two on my list of album faves, right after "When I Fall In Love." Brassy and bassy, with attitude and a lot of cheek. McBride wrote this in 1995, for the "Alphabet City" section of Manhattan.
"In A Hurry" closes the album - another McBride original. Outrageous bass and horns. Listen for the growling bowed bass at about 3:00. An artist at work!
All in all, a great middle-of-the-night bike ride. As I returned home, I rushed inside because my head was full of notes... and NOTES!
As a bassist, McBride plays well with horns as accompaniment, and that always makes for good Big Band. As well, his arrangements and placements are spot on - each song is unique yet traditional, and his own compositions play along the standards without so much as a hiccup in mood or presentation. In other words, he knows his genre like a Master should. Grammy well deserved!! I highly recommend this album!
Bass, Arranger, Conductor: Christian McBride Woodwinds: Steve Wilson (alto sax, flute) Todd Bashore (alto sax, flute) Ron Blake (tenor, soprano sax; flute) Todd Williams (tenor sax, flute) Loren Schoenberg (tenor sax on “I Should Care” and “Broadway”) Carl Maraghi (baritone sax, bass clarinet) Trumpets: Frank Greene, Freddie Hendrix, Nicholas Payton, Nabate Isles Trombones: Steve Davis, Michael Dease, James Burton, Douglas Purviance (bass trombone) Rhythm Section: Xavier Davis (piano) Ulysses Owens, Jr. (drums) Vocals: Melissa Walker
Check out this "Making Of" video from McBride's YouTube Channel.
And be sure to visit his Website. Music Available on iTunes