Jazz Fest Focus: Christian McBride

27 05 2015

Offbeat Magazine Jazz Fest issue 2015

cchristianAsked to describe the musical common denominator he shares with Dianne Reeves and Jeffrey Osborne, bassist Christian McBride responds without hesitation.

“Soul,” he says, the timbre of his deep voice adding a layer of emphasis to the word. “Classic soul music.”

In recent years, McBride’s live performances have focused heavily on post-bop material taken from a pair of releases featuring his trio (Out Here) and quintet (People Music). But over the course of his career, the prolific three-time Grammy Award winner has never shied away from juggling multiple projects. He held down a weekly DJ gig in Brooklyn for much of the past year—a new interest he credits in part to WWOZ and Hustle Party DJ Melissa “Soul Sister” Weber. And since unveiling his first large ensemble recording (2012’s The Good Feeling), he’s presented intermittent, yet reliably swinging performances of the Christian McBride Big Band.

Various guests have appeared on those gigs, but few combinations promise to walk the line between jazz and soul like that of McBride with Reeves and Osborne.

Growing up in Philadelphia, McBride says he had every solo album released by Osborne—the sultry voiced crooner behind ’80s hits like “I Don’t Really Need No Light” and “On the Wings of Love.” The bassist also loved Osborne’s recordings with the long-running ’70s R&B/funk act L.T.D., whose coordinated dance moves and orange jumpsuits during a 1978 “Soul Train” appearance are almost as classic as their music.

Such listening experiences left the bassist, in his words, “trying not to be too much of a fan-boy” when Osborne tapped him decades later to play on 2013s A Time For Love.

“It’s a jazz album,” McBride notes. “People think that’s unusual, but it’s not. Almost every soul singer of Jeffrey Osborne’s generation has experience singing jazz. Up until the late ’70s, the thread between jazz and soul was very blurred.”

Reeves, an innovative improviser with unmatched technical agility, also sings with one foot in the world of soul and R&B, particularly on her latest album, the emotion-loaded, Grammy-winning Beautiful Life, which draws on the work of Marvin Gaye and Bob Marley, among others.

Some of the material from that album—along with tracks from Osborne and McBride’s A Time For Love collaboration—turned up in a 2013 performance of the Christian McBride Big Band that featured Reeves and Osborne.

There were still a few surprises.

“Working out the repertoire, Jeffrey I think assumed we were going to stick closely to his album. But I said, ‘You got to give me one L.T.D. tune,’” McBride says, laughing.

“I was so happy he was so cool and gracious and flexible to let me arrange ‘Back in Love Again’ for my big band.”

Bring on the “Soul Train.”




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