Christian McBride & Inside Straight – Kind of Brown (2009)

My first album review in 2010 is of an album released in 2009. Not just 2009. June of 2009. Ok, so I slept on this one a bit.

My first album review in 2010 is of an album released in 2009. Not just 2009. June of 2009. Ok, so I slept on this one a bit.

I never intentionally avoided listening to Kind of Brown, it just never reached my hands. The title thing was kind of peculiar to me, too. In his liner notes, Orrin Keepnews reads my mind: “…before listening, you might feel a little stuffy about McBride’s having shamelessly, with only a single color change, lifted the title of Miles’ by-now classic Kind of Blue.”

I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a cover record, like a Branford Marsalis plays A Love Supreme kind of thing. My best guess, perhaps, was that the music would be a nod to modal jazz trail-blazed by Kind of Blue. But not so. In fact, it seems to just be a title and nothing more.

But under the title of that shameless allusion to a classic album is a strong record led by a bassist whose chops and musical sensibilities would rival those of any other, living or dead. Christian McBride’s lyrical and soulful playing is special, marked by an obvious technical facility to play more like a quick-witted trumpet player than a cumbersome bassist.

Most of the album rhythmically swings, with the exception of a few tunes in straight eighth-note feels. Tunes like “Starbeam” and “Brother Mister” skirt the line between bossa nova, soul, and modern jazz with a funkiness underlying it all. Along with pianist Eric Scott Reed’s “Pursuit of Peace,” which grabs the listener with the theme’s polar counterpoint, each piece defies classification.

Behind the fun melody of “Used Ta’ Could,” you can practically hear saxophonist Steve Wilson smiling. (The VCU alum is in superb form on the record) Wonderful solos and fills by rhythm section members come throughout the gospel-waltz, especially Reed’s blues soaked riffs. Nearly everyone solos on the short form.

Young member Warren Wolf, Jr. on vibraphone mostly sticks to two mallets as to not disturb Reed’s harmonic ground on piano, but it’s those two mallets that find all the right bars, whether in blazing scale runs or blue-note laden phrases. Drummer Carl Allen has a knack for syncopation via displacement — a disorienting effect during his soloing — first found in “Theme for Kareem” and further throughout the album.

Nearing the end of the disc, “Stick & Move” is an uptempo blues with a jarring head that stands out as a favorite just because of the band’s ruthless swing.

Most solos are in short-and-sweet territory, presumably for recording’s sake, so seeing this group tearing into extended statements at a live performance must be an absolute joy. For me, there are fewer and fewer jazz recordings that pass the 60-minute mark and can still be an interesting listen throughout. This is one that can and does. iTunes, Amazon

Track listing: Brother Mister, Theme for Kareem, Rainbow Wheel, Starbeam, Used ‘Ta Could, The Shade of the Cedar Tree, Pursuit of Peace, Uncle James, Stick & Move, Where Are You?

Personnel: Christian McBride: bass; Carl Allen: drums; Eric Scott Reed: piano; Steve Wilson: sax; Warren Wolf, Jr.: vibes.

Visit Christian McBride online

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Dean Christesen

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