Melbourne International Jazz Festival: Christian McBride Trio

As devoted fans cheered US bass icon Christian McBride onto the Melbourne Recital Centre stage, he, in return, was glowing in his praise of Melbourne, after four years away. This time he also brought world-renowned drummer Ulysses Owens Jr and an extraordinary young pianist, Christian Sands, who’s acknowledged as an emerging force in the jazz world.

Christian McBride
Christian McBride

A dapper, sophisticated personality, McBride led his trio with a humility and infectious humour that resulted in a seamless performance. From the gentle opening of Paul Weston’s ‘Day by Day’ to Johnnie Taylor’s funky ‘Who’s Making Love,’ the trio had an exhilarating communication with its audience, and every note was struck with a clarity and authority that left no doubt that they were jazz royalty.

The whole process flowed with a joie de vivre and synchronicity that took the audience’s breath away. McBride’s left hand spun up and down the bass with the agility and strength of a spider, while his right hand plucked those strings with loving precision. At the same time, Sands’s right hand trilled along the piano in complete harmony with his fellow musician.

Decades ago, I had the pleasure of seeing Errol Garner sitting on three New York telephone books playing the piano with equal agility in Greenwich Village. Watching Sands, a man of similar stature and definitely of talent, vividly brought that moment back. He’s only 24 and has a commanding presence at the piano that perfectly complements McBride’s 25 years of experience, as well as synchronising the momentum with the dynamic Owens with a glance, grin or simple snap of the fingers. The result was an extraordinary rendition of ‘These Foolish Things’ and Oscar Peterson’s ‘Hallelulah Time’, to name just two of many that took the audience on a non-stop roller coaster ride of emotion.

McBride demonstrated his virtuosity by playing one of his own compositions, ‘I Guess I’ll Have to Forget’, as well as singing the old favourite ‘Shake your Bootey’, and, in contrast, used his bow to deliver an exquisite version of the beautiful song ‘I have Dreamed’ from The King and I.

Multiple Grammy Award winner McBride calls jazz the ‘plate’ and funk and gospel the ‘food’ on it. As a constant promoter of jazz, he was also co-director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, which keeps alive the history of jazz from long before the days of Errol Garner to today’s vibrant sounds.

With tongue-in-cheek humour and an appreciation of his Melbourne audience, McBride parted with a suggestion that the audience should come to the trio’s next gig – in Connecticut, New York, no less. My advice is: go, go, go – it would be worth every cent to have the privilege of hearing such brilliant musicians again.

If you missed this concert, many of the tunes are recorded on the Christian McBride Trio’s next CD, Out Here, produced by MAC Records and distributed in August.

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