Christian McBride is imposing in every sense of the word. Standing almost as tall as his instrument, the bass player, planted in the center of U Street’s Bohemian Caverns in between the other members of his trio, coolly controlled the entire room with nothing more than his hands.
A centerpiece of the modern jazz world, McBride has been working with the genre’s largest names since his late teens, accruing numerous credits as a leader and a sideman. McBride leads a big band and a larger combo group in addition to his trio, but that night, he needed nothing more than the company of pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. to dictate the concert’s pace.
The bassist’s style and chops were impeccable, but just as interesting was his ability to work the room:
“Y’all are all so tame! Stop acting all sophisticated. I’ve been to D.C. before. I know how crazy you guys are. Who are you all trying to impress?” McBride said to the audience to a number of laughs.
“I need you guys to start giving us some heat, because when you give us heat, we thrown heat back, and things get combustible,” the bassist said midway through the set.
From that point on, the electricity in the low-roofed cavern was palpable, and the sounds and movements from the audience after impressive licks were much more evident. McBride continued in his charming ways throughout the set, chiding the audience about the poor performance of the Redskins and buying a drink for a man wearing an obscure “Christian McBride Band” hat.
On the musical front, McBride’s group did not disappoint. Each member of the trio was impressive in his own right, much less support for McBride than equal members of the performance themselves. Sands’ dexterity on the piano was astounding, especially in the show’s final tune, a blues in which all three members traded solos for minutes on end. Sands and McBride threw licks of increasing speed back and forth, drawing looks of astonishment from the audience, until they broke back into the tune’s head. Sands’ hands flew across the keys, demonstrating bebop-speed licks and stride segments in the breaks between McBride and Owens’ solos. Owens– the timekeeper for the evening– was never more immaculate than during a McBride-written ballad, “Uncle James,” where the drummer pulled out a high-speed brush-stick solo that had McBride beaming on stage.
There are few names in contemporary jazz that stand out: Wynton Marsalis, Brian Blade, and Joshua Redman above most others. Christian McBride sits firmly in this group, and after seeing this show, there was no reason to wonder why.
Photo: Chris Almeida/The Georgetown Voice