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Christian McBride & Joshua Redman at Wigmore Hall

Christian McBride & Joshua Redman
(Wigmore Hall, 28 May 2022. Live review by Charles Rees)

Christian McBride, Joshua Redman. Photo credit: Gemma Rey

Saturday night’s concert concluded bassist Christian McBride‘s tenure as artist-in-residence at Wigmore Hall. During the past year, there have been three performances, first alongside pianist Jason Moran last autumn (reviewed for LJN by Chris Parker), then an evening with three-fifths of his band Inside Straight in March this year.

His third and final evening at Wigmore was a duo concert with close friend and longtime collaborator, tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman. It was Redman who first introduced the bassist to Wigmore Hall, via another duo set almost a decade ago (reviewed for LJN by Sebastian Scotney) during the saxophonist’s residency. Since then, McBride has developed a fascination with the hall’s history and unique acoustic, exploring in particular its lack of requirement for amplification.

Redman also understands and ‘reads’ the hall well thanks to his experience there, showcasing the sort of remarkable dynamic variety that would not be on offer to him at the average jazz club. The clarity and balance across the range of his horn was particularly striking; as great as his recordings are, they seem not to give his tone quality that kind of justice. His exploration of the altissimo register was equally enthralling, especially when the note would not quite pop out as planned and he would let out little grunts of mild, amused irritation.

Not only was he pushing his instrument to its limit, he was pushing himself there as well and McBride was on hand to answer with lines that seemed to match Redman’s fluency. Such technique is a spectacle to behold on an upright bass, but it never got in the way of the instrument’s more traditional roles: driving the time and underpinning the harmony; he played in much the same way as he would have if a pianist and a drummer had also been present.

The set list struck a nice balance between standards composed by beboppers – Oscar Pettiford’s “Tricotism” and Dizzy Gillespie’s “Bebop” for example – and standards from the American songbook like “Sunny Side of the Street” and “There Is No Greater Love” (introduced as “There Will Never Be Another You” by McBride and humorously quoted in their solos). They also showcased their own compositions: McBride’s “Brother Malcolm”, his dedication to Malcolm X, and Redman’s “The Oneness of Two”, which they originally recorded on Redman’s album MoodSwing some thirty years ago with Brad Mehldau and Brian Blade.

They also gave a heartfelt rendition of “If You Could See Me Now”, making the Wigmore’s space feel particularly intimate, and played a thoroughly swinging version of “Birks’ Works”, another Gillespie number. During his solo on this tune, Redman artfully pulled around the time of his lines from being right on top of the beat to being as far behind as one can go before losing the feel, and McBride’s grounded walking underneath made it even more of a powerful effect.

McBride has also made a point of featuring the performers he has brought to Wigmore in solo items, usually about mid-way through the set. Continuing that tradition, he performed a solo-bass interpretation of “Polka Dots and Moonbeams”, which Redman answered with his own solo interpretation of “St. Thomas”, composed by his hero Sonny Rollins. It swung so hard that one could feel McBride itching to get up and join in from the corner.

This concert ended McBride’s year as artist-in-residence on a high, and with one of the most enjoyable concerts of the year.

Christian McBride has said of Wigmore Hall: “It’s just such a great place to play. I fell in love with it and am always happy to play there.” Surely he’ll be back…(?)

LINK: Charles Rees’ preview of Christian McBride & Inside Straight at Wigmore Hall

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