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Christian McBride & Inside Straight (Wigmore Hall, 21 March 2022)

In continuation of his tenure as artist-in-residence at Wigmore Hall, Christian McBride will return with Inside Straight to perform a concert at the hall on Monday, 21 March, with a £5 ticket offer for under-35s. Preview/interview by Charles Rees.

L-R: Carl Allen, Warren Wolf, Christian McBride, Peter Martin and Steve Wilson (Inside Straight). Photo courtesy of Mack Avenue.

Bassist Christian McBride made his first album in his own name, Gettin’ to It, at the age of twenty-two, and his profile as one of the leading bassists in jazz has been steadily rising ever since. He has worked with a host of the greats, including Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner and Freddie Hubbard. He has thoroughly earned his 15 Grammy nominations and seven wins.

As his fiftieth birthday approaches , he has not slowed down and continues to balance a busy workload that includes hosting “Jazz Night in America”, NPR’s flagship jazz broadcast, as well as directing the Newport Jazz Festival; a role which he was appointed to in 2016 by its founder, George Wein, who described him as “the special someone to continue my legacy.” He carries out these responsibilities and more while touring and recording simultaneously!

McBride is – and always has been – highly in-demand as a sideman, called on by many greats for their sessions and concerts. But he has also worked to establish himself as a leader of bands of all sizes, from trios to his big band. Bassists are usually the last to be considered as bandleaders, but McBride is no fan of this stereotype. He says: “I don’t think it matters what instrument the bandleader plays so long as the music is communicated well. And plus, that whole myth about how it’s unusual for a bass player to lead a band… I think that’s quite inaccurate. I mean, Charles Mingus, Ray Brown, Dave Holland, Ron Carter, Oscar Pettiford. There’s so many great bass-playing bandleaders, so I’m not sure how that became known as unusual.”

He sees this role, unselfishly, as mainly to encourage the players in his groups to have an outlet for their own compositions. He told me, laughing; “I don’t like hogging-up the royalty money… Most musicians I’ve worked with are very good writers, so I like them to be able to record their music so people can hear not only what wonderful improvisers they are, but what good composers they are.” In addition to nurturing compositions from his players, he expects one trait above all else: “Good ears.”

One notable McBride-led ensemble is Inside Straight. Formed in 2007, the band’s original lineup included Steve Wilson, saxophones; Warren Wolf, vibraphone; Eric Reed, later Peter Martin, piano; Carl Allen, drums; and, of course, McBride on bass. They have released three albums as a group, most recently Live at the Village Vanguard on Mack Avenue, recorded live in 2014 but released last year.

Live at the Village Vanguard cover art.

This March, Inside Straight are set return to London for the first time in a decade. They will appear only as a trio — vibes, bass and piano – for one night at Wigmore Hall on 21 March (booking link below). This is in continuation of McBride’s tenure as the Wigmore’s artist-in-residence, which has so far seen him perform a duo concert with pianist Jason Moran (reviewed for LJN by Chris Parker), and will see him return in the Spring for another duo concert with acclaimed American-saxophonist Joshua Redman.

McBride obviously has a special place in his heart for Wigmore Hall, saying; “I’m fascinated by the sound of the hall. I really enjoy playing places where amplification is not really needed, so I can just take my bass out and play and know that everything will be heard.” He went on to say that the hall’s acoustic was the reason he chose not to bring the full quintet, instead feeling that the colours of the vibes, piano and bass would be “acoustically perfect” for the occasion.

As was noted by Ivan Hewett in his Telegraph review of McBride’s duo with Jason Moran, the normally ‘reserved’ Wigmore audience was “fortified by eager young jazz players eager to pick up a few tricks.” This will no doubt be the case again thanks to the hall’s generous £5 ticket offer for under-35s. I asked McBride if he had a message for this particular demographic… “do a lot more listening than talking” was his response – a lesson that he learned himself as a young musician working with older players.

To anyone planning to make the trip out to see Inside Straight at Wigmore, or is undecided, McBride has a message; “Just be curious and come with open ears, an open mind, open heart, and I can almost – almost! – guarantee that no one will be disappointed.”

LINKS: Wigmore Hall booking link

Christian McBride’s website

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