Christian McBride & Inside Straight – People Music
(Mack Avenue Records Mac 1070. CD Review by Chris Parker)
‘I figure the best way to communicate is to let the people navigate where you should go’ is bassist/composer Christian McBride’s explanation of the title of this, the second album from his quintet Inside Straight (a name that was itself chosen from submissions by fans). Such self-effacing populism might easily have resulted in a somewhat bland and inoffensive album – and there are indeed moments during this determinedly accessible programme when a bit of raucous brawling might have usefully leavened the somewhat polite sound-mix – but overall McBride’s contention that swinging and imagination are not mutually exclusive is vindicated by the majority of the in-band originals that make up People Music.
These range from the bassist’s own classy straightahead offerings (the pick of them ‘Fair Hope Theme’, which intersperses whip-smart ensemble work with a series of cogent, lively solos from altoist Steve Wilson, pianist Peter Martin and vibes player Warren Wolf over the composer’s pulsating bass and Carl Allen’s crisp drums; to a soprano-led tribute to Maya Angelou (Wilson’s ‘Ms. Angelou’); a nimble, driving theme featuring Inside Straight’s ‘alternative’ pianist and drummer, composer Christian Sands and Ulysses Owens Jr. respectively (‘Dream Train’); and an affecting threnody for Whitney Houston, ‘New Hope’s Angel’, which closes the programme on a rather sombre note.
Anyone who’s witnessed McBride perform (and caught, maybe, his wonderfully uplifting James Brown-inspired dancing) will have experienced the full force of his considerable charm and personal magnetism; these qualities are present in abundance on this consistently likable album, which – as McBride himself claims – can reasonably be compared with ‘a classic car – a ’69 Lincoln Continental’.