Christian McBride's Inside Straight Quintet was a Quartet
on Sunday, as there was trouble delivering the vibraphonist by plane to
Indianapolis. The music was still plenty full, and though the set was comprised
of a few long, extended numbers, it contained great variety.
In Mingus fashion, McBride showed that he was able to switch between different
bass-playing roles at the drop of a hat. At one moment, he was engrossed in a
melodic solo over a slow two-feel. The next, he drove the whole band with a
double-time walk. He was a free spirit on one number and just supplied the
foundation on the next.
The best showcase of
McBride's technical prowess was Ellington's leisurely ballad "Sophisticated
Lady," which he opened with a solo of hammer-ons, arpeggios and slides that
sounded like bends. His facility with these techniques on a full-scale upright
would have matched another virtuoso playing on an electric.
Drummer Carl Allen and pianist Peter Martin made a game of obscuring the
downbeat with orchestrated syncopations. On top of this, McBride always played
way out in front. Thanks to these choices by the rhythm section, the faster
numbers really cooked, especially "Stick n' Move," an all-out Steve Wilson
feature. Wilson's alto style was completely his own: he held onto the quarter
notes of the rhythm section and radiated warmth with major modes and tonic.
Without this warmth, there would have been no relief from nasty substitutions
by Martin and McBride.
The Inside Straight redefined what is meant by a 'bass-driven' band. When the
bass played ahead of 1, the drummer did not illuminate 1 but rather further
obscured it. Conversely, when the bass played a substitution on tonic, the alto
played tonic to fill out the sound. McBride drove in whichever direction he
wanted, and the band gave you just enough of the tune to hang on.