Out Here (Mack Avenue) is a seriously entertaining and musically affecting trio record from monster bassist Christian McBride that also serves as a splendid introduction to two of the best up-and-coming players in jazz, pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. The Philadelphia-born McBride, whose solo career launched in 1995 with Getting To It (Verve), has sideman credits on over 300 recordings in addition to ten of his own as leader, but this is his first trio recording. Now fully acknowledged as a jazz standard-bearer, an astonishing feat for the 41-year-old, McBride has adroitly exploited his encyclopedic knowledge of music to find success as a bandleader, mentor, composer, and producer.
If a jazz record can be composed of hits, then Out Here is full of them, thanks to its robust arrangements and earthy sonics. You could drop any of these tunes on radio or your iPod and easily get caught up in seductive originals like "Ham Hocks and Cabbage," a tight blues tune written by McBride and Sands. It's an eight-minute tour de force of swing and evocative interplay that flows with an Oscar Peterson vibe. For more adventurous listeners, the prime pick is the trio's inventive rendition of "My Favorite Things," which tips its hat to the experimentation that John Coltrane brought to his iconic version, with McBride providing sparks through juxtaposed time signatures and juicy solos to turn your expectations upside down.
I've had the pleasure of speaking with the 24-year-old Sands when he gigged with bassist Ben Williams' Sound Effect band in New York earlier this year. The pianist is versed in many jazz and pop styles and counts Jason Moran and Dr. Billy Taylor as former teachers. He's currently studying with pianist Vijay Iyer. He hooked up with McBride for the leader's Inside Straight band, which was his first big break, and despite coming across as a well-mannered young adult influenced as much by rap and hip-hop, his jazz chops are blazing on the bandstand—you can hardly believe the sound of maturity in his playing. Sands is on subtle fire throughout much of Out Here, with an expressive playing style that's particularly rewarding on the McBride ballad, "I'll Guess I'll Have To Forget," previously recorded by the bassist on Sci-Fi (Verve, 2000).
At 30, Ulysses Owens, Jr. is a prodigious talent as well, building a portfolio of jazz releases as a producer (singer Jeremiah Abiah, trumpeter Mike Cottone) as well as a leader. His recent album Unanimous (Criss Cross, 2012) is a state-of-the-art example of modern jazz that's as tight as it is memorable. He's also a member of McBride's Big Band outfit, obviously at ease on his kit whatever the group.
McBride's talent spotting is reminiscent of artists like Art Blakey and more recently, Chick Corea (whom McBride also plays with) and vibist Gary Burton, two veterans that populate their bands with exceptionally gifted younger players. That freshness is evident throughout Out Here.
In case anyone forgets that McBride's musical background is rooted in R&B, the record closes with the finger-popping "Who's Making Love"—soul music, says McBride. The tune is a ripe slice of jazz-infused funk with more ounce to its bounce, courtesy of the bassist's killer riffs and grizzly vocals, Sand's fleet-fingered grooves and a ferocious Owens backbeat. This album is a sublime winner that rides a wave of swing and impressive musicianship, surely distinguished by McBride and his pair of aces, pianist Sands and drummer Owens. (9 tracks; 65 minutes)
This article is from the September 2013 edition of ICON Magazine, the only publication in the Greater Delaware Valley and beyond solely devoted to coverage of music, fine and performing arts, pop culture, and entertainment. More Information.