Live reviews

Christian McBride and Jason Moran at Wigmore Hall

Christian McBride and Jason Moran

(Wigmore Hall, 6 October 2021. Live Review by Chris Parker)

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An amiable, impressive figure with a streak of mischievousness (I once witnessed him doing an impromptu James Brown impersonation in the middle of an otherwise “serious” jazz performance), Christian McBride introduced this duo gig with pianist Jason Moran by telling a full house that the Wigmore Hall was “one of his favourite places to perform in the whole world”. After this, of course, he had the audience in the palm of his hand for the whole ninety-minute concert, which judiciously interspersed modern jazz classics with slightly more obscure fare, but consistently entertained and communicated, without compromising either player’s virtuosity.

Jason Moran and Christian McBride at Wigmore Hall. Photo © Richard Cannon

     Beginning with something borrowed, something blue – Thelonious Monk’s “Blue Monk” – was a smart move, the piece’s deceptively simple, insinuatingly memorable melody allowing the performers to ease themselves into mutually sympathetic improvisational mode via a well-travelled route, and simultaneously presenting the audience with something familiar and reassuring. Monk himself was frequently characterised as an eccentric, his piano playing memorably compared with someone missing a step in the dark, but this view of his art has always seemed a mite trivialising, and Moran’s exploration of the piece’s unexpected nooks and crannies, his teasing false halts and delayed resolutions interspersed with sudden percussive splashes, beautifully illustrated just how skilful and sophisticated a composer Monk was.

     Another modern master, Wayne Shorter, was nodded to courtesy of his affecting tribute to his daughter, “Myako”: McBride’s arco introduction led to a tender exposition of a typically subtle, even enigmatic, Shorter piece beautifully articulated by Moran. Two solo excursions of considerable adroitness were then followed by a couple of genuine treats: “Toni Morrison Said Black is a Rainbow” and a “Mingus mashup” (McBride’s description) based on the repeated bass figure of a track from the album Let My Children Hear Music, “Hobo Ho”. 

     The former, recorded by Moran on his recent solo album The Sound Will Tell You, featured a short spoken-word interlude, quoting Toni Morrison on blackness: “There’re five or six kinds of black. Some silky, some woolly. Some just empty … Saying something is pitch black is like saying something is green. What kind of green? Green like my bottles? Green like a grasshopper? … Well, night black is the same way. May as well be a rainbow.” 

     The latter introduced a welcome rawness and vibrancy to the proceedings, Mingus’s characteristically insistent, driving bassline underpinning some appropriately free-spirited, funky playing (and whistling) from Moran, so that the duo’s elegiac, tender encore provided the perfect (contrasting) end to a supremely tasteful, unfussily virtuosic performance from two masters of their craft in top form.  

Jason Moran and Christian McBride. Wigmore Hall. Photo © Richard Cannon

Christian McBride is an Artist-in-Residence at Wigmore Hall and his next dates at the hall are:

  • Monday 21 March 2022 in a quartet with Steve Wilson (saxophones), Warren Wolf (vibes) Peter Martin (piano) and Carl Allen (drums)
  • Saturday 28 May 2022 in a duo with Joshua Redman (saxophones)

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