He's a third-generation bassman from Philadelphia - both his father and great uncle had been prime bass players within the city's black musical community.
Born in 1972, Christian McBride began with the electric bass when he was eight and was soon plucking his way through the high school and local R&B bands (while he proudly collected every James Brown album he could afford), and in 1989 moved to New York to be even closer to jazz's nucleus.
Now a prodigy on upright bass, he soon attracted the attention of several high-status band leaders and played in the bands of Bobby Watson, Benny Golson and Roy Hargrove, finally joining the veteran Freddie Hubbard and staying with the great trumpeter for two-and-a-half years.
In 1994 he led his first recording session for the powerful label Verve in Getting To It and followed that with No 2 Express in 1996, soon becoming the most in-demand hard bop bassist of the '90s, playing on dozens of albums through the decade, taking the mantle of his great bass mentor Ray Brown.
For this new record he has assembled a prime quintet. The drummer is another Hubbard alumnus, Carl Allen, born in Milwaukee in 1961, an Art Blakey disciple and leader of several of his own albums. The pianist is Eric Reed, another Philly man, whose father was a pastor and who grew up in a living gospel tradition, replacing Marcus Roberts in the Wynton Marsalis band.
The sole horn is altoist Steve Wilson, also born in 1961 and from Hampton, Virginia. Since he moved to New York in 1987 he has worked with some of the most brilliant Apple-based musicians, from Ralph Peterson to Buster Williams, from Mulgrew Miller to Renee Rosnes.
The band's newest name is vibes specialist Warren Wolf Jr, who has already recorded with hardboppers Jeremy Pelt and Adonis Rose, and with particular distinction on the Bobby Watson album From the Heart.
McBride's booming timbre sets alive the quintet at the beginning of the opener and the first of the bassist's seven compositions of the album, Brother Mister, with Wilson setting out the theme.
Hubbard died in 2008 and his Theme for Kareem is an opportunity for the five to show warm respect. Wilson's early choruses are full of fire, Wolf's solo bounces and swings, McBride's pulsates and tingles and Reed zooms up and down his keys with the urgent drums of Allen bursting out towards the end.
Rainbow Wheel is lively melodism with Wilson in cheerful fettle and McBride's twang so airy that together with Allen's jumping drums he virtually causes the music to levitate.
Two tunes follow, remembering precious pianists, both of them at different periods members of Blakey's Jazz Messengers. The Shade of the Cedar Tree is dedicated to the Dallas-born veteran Cedar Walton, who is still playing relentlessly, and the melody suggests that, vibrant and full of swinging optimism. Wolf is superb on this one, his notes skipping and dancing to McBride's agile and furious rhythmic texture. Wilson and Reed only compound the joyousness.
Uncle James remembers the Memphis pianist James Williams, who once wrote: "To Morning Star readers! Best wishes and keep swinging!" on my copy of his Magic Trio album with Elvin Jones and Ray Brown after a riveting London performance. He died in 2006 after helping and mentoring many young jazzmen and jazzwomen. The melody seems to chirrup like a nesting bird, with Wolf's solo resonantly beautiful before Wilson's alto sings out its warm and singular message.
"I knew that he always kept a couple of tunes in his back pocket," quipped McBride of his confrere Reed's impulse to compose. And the pianist's Pursuit of Peace is redolent with verve and hope, with the writer himself playing a lively solo before McBride comes vibrating in, his strings seething with power.
Stick and Move has pace and a sense of effortless buoyancy, the hard work of artistry hardly showing through. Reed and Wolf race through their solos and McBride's bass sprints below them, urging them forward. It is a contrast to the final track, a version of a ballad made famous by Frank Sinatra, Where Are You?, played as a poignant duet by Reed and McBride using his bow. Perhaps it is a cry to Hubbard and Williams, but it is a moving end to a session full of the love and skill of five musicians in their heyday.
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