November 2021 marked the 64th anniversary of the first “live” jazz recording at the Village Vanguard in New York – by Sonny Rollins. Although bassist Christian McBride’s quintet, Inside Straight, has played there annually since 2009, it was five years later before it too was recorded, in the same year and month – December – as his trio also was. This album is the result of the quintet’s short residency there.
The joyous last set of the last night of that stay crowned a return for the quintet to the Double V after 11 months. It’s packed with good things, not least McBride’s undemonstratively bravura solos on his own compositions (for examples, Fair Hope Theme and The Shade Of The Cedar Tree), vibraphonist Warren Wolf’s swinging luminosity, saxophonist Steve Wilson’s hard-bop lyricism everywhere but especially on his own Ms Angelou, drummer Carl Allen’s prodigious work-rate (unstoppable at the churning finale to Wolf’s Gang Gang), and pianist Peter Martin’s ship-steadying devotion to duty, his comping sometimes so thorough as to be almost a wall of sound, his solos authoritative. Not least everyone, in fact.
How intelligent of McBride to include Wolf in the line-up of what could be overpowering or sonically unforgiving. The vibes, sharing theme statements with Wilson, run through the ensemble tapestry like a thin but glistering gold thread. But then, the bassist has headed several bands, with the Double V as a significant venue and a launch platform for his long association with Mack Avenue Records. On this album he contributes four of the seven compositions, all of them sticking to the listener like burrs.
McBride’s reason for Inside Straight’s formation in 2007 was a wish to end his eight-year sojourn in “territories other than the ones I was known for”. Cynics might say his return to the territories he was known for implied he wasn’t yet sufficiently known for his work in the other territories, where he’d presumably wished to be at least equally known, territorially. No doubt he was more widely known – at gigs with Sting, for instance – but time will tell. The known territories are nothing more than places where they play “straight ahead, four-to-the-bar, post-Bop, acoustic”, as on this upbeat album.
Sweet Bread; Fair Hope Theme; Ms Angelou; The Shade Of The Cedar Tree; Gang Gang; Uncle James; Stick & Move (79.45)
McBride (b); Steve Wilson (as, ss); Warren Wolf (vib); Peter Martin (p); Carl Allen (d). New York, 5-7 December 2014.
Mack Avenue MAC1192