505, May 31
A single expletive and a thousand exclamation marks would have been the shorthand way to review this concert. Here was why jazz thrives more in small clubs than concert halls, the wondrous music-making and close, enraptured audience spiralling together toward the extraordinary pinnacle of energy that was reached.
It is 20 years since Christian McBride emerged as the great bass virtuoso of his generation, keenly sought after by Betty Carter, McCoy Tyner, Milt Jackson, Chick Corea and many more. Currently his own trio contains two much younger players who are also expanding the potential of their instruments: pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens.
From the outset the sheer fun of the interaction brimmed off the stage. Thelonious Monk’s I Mean You was one of several pieces where the room seemed to levitate with the music flying near the speed of light. I Guess I’ll Have To Forget, a McBride bossa nova, showed that lyricism, subtlety and delicacy were also on tap, as well as a more expansive collective improvising reminiscent of Keith Jarrett’s trio, with daring rhythmic permutations.
The masterpiece was My Favourite Things. Many artists have fiddled with it since John Coltrane first introduced it to the jazz canon, but McBride’s trio completely reinvented it. After a rubato opening they latched on to the theme like lighting does a tree it incinerates. But rather than stay at this pitch of ferocity they immediately relented to an eerie dream-like recapitulation of the melody. Then they stripped it to a barest groove and rebuilt it once more, like three deities, in their image.
Oscar Peterson’s Hallelujah Time was taken at a tempo that pushed the flesh back on the bones, and included an extraordinary Owens brushes solo, which, during one fluttering phrase of chimerical lightness, had McBride exclaiming “Butterfly! Butterfly!”
The bassist then swooned with his bow through the melody of I Have Dreamed, sumptuous and cello-like. Sands’ solo made kaleidoscopic references to the melody, and showed that he can play with space as brilliantly as he fills holes.
The final surprise was Johnny Taylor’s funk anthem Who’s Making Love, which, appropriately, was wicked and fun in equal measure. A storming ovation saw the trio return for a heartfelt homage to Mulgrew Miller, who recently died.
Over it all towered McBride with his warm, indomitable sound, groove and ease of pulling off the improbable.