Reviews and Recommended Jazz by Nick Bewsey

Category: Christian McBride



A TOP JAZZ RECORD OF 2014: Recently, there’s been no shortage of excellent, forward-looking jazz albums led by drummers. For jazz fans who put groove and swing in their plus columns, Grammy®-winner Terri Lyne Carrington, Kendrick Scott, Antonio Sanchez, Matt Wilson and Rudy Royston are taking music to new and satisfying heights. You can add Ulysses Owens, Jr. to this exceptional lineup – he’s a drummer determined to blaze his own trail with sonically inspired beats. Continue reading


What is it about vinyl records that cause listeners to swoon? As a recent convert myself (I’ll cop to the fact that I’ve recently invested in a Clearaudio turntable rig), I can say that despite the slight nuisance of getting up every 15 minutes to turn over the platter, the sound of vinyl captures the essence of a performance in a way that digital media cannot. The warmth of analog sound, together with the depth and dynamic range of vinyl is sonically apparent to most listeners and even non-audiophiles. A welcome resurgence of interest of vinyl has not gone unnoticed by recording labels, since most of them offer a vinyl edition and CD to accompany their current digital releases.

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Out Here is a seriously entertaining and musically affecting trio record from monster bassist Christian McBride that also serves as an splendid introduction to two of the best up and coming players in jazz, pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. The Philadelphia-born McBride, whose solo career launched in 1995 with Getting’ To It (Verve,) has sideman credits on over 300 recordings in addition to 10 of his own as leader, but this is his first trio recording. Now fully acknowledged as a jazz standard bearer, an astonishing feat for the 41 year old, McBride has adroitly exploited his encyclopedic knowledge of music to find success as a bandleader, mentor, composer and producer.

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Emboldened by her 2011 Grammy® winning “The Mosaic Project” (Concord) a slick, contemporary jazz and funk recording that featured a who’s who of all-female singers and musicians, bandleader and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington strikes hot and cool with the equally confident “Money Jungle: Provocative In Blue,” a reimagining of the classic Duke Ellington trio album from 1963 that featured Charles Mingus and Max Roach. Continue reading


Sometimes when a group gets together, like this one under the leadership of 28-year-old drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr., the intent isn’t about playing the most complex or challenging compositions. On “Unanimous,” an apt and righteous album title, Owens’ concept “was to hire a group who are tops on their instruments in jazz, and give them music that isn’t difficult.”  His band is both illustrious (Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Christian McBride on the bass) and wide open to this idea (alto sax player Jaleel Shaw, pianist Christian Sands and trombonist Michael Dease.)  Stocked with sleek, soulful originals (“Beardom X,” McBride’s “Cute and Sixy”) and vintage favorites like Wayne Shorter’s “E.S.P.” and Lee Morgan’s rollin’ “Party Time,” Owens lets his band mates do their thing – Payton has a withering good solo ala Woody Shaw on the original lead tune “Good And Terrible” and rising star Christian Sands solos mightily on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma.” “Prototype,” a tune by Andre Benjamin (Andre 3000), pops up as a moody highlight halfway through, adding to the eclecticism of the project. Owens switches to trio mode for the last three tracks, letting Sands and McBride deploy some affecting solos and exchanges on “Cherokee” and the splendid “You Make Me Feel So Young.”  Overall, the music on “Unanimous” sounds and feels good, qualities that guarantee repeat listening. Owens is a marvelous drummer with the wisdom to keep the music flowing – he’s got no time for extended head-rattling solos here – and it’s a credit to his reputation that he’s got friends like Payton, McBride and the others on board, making his debut a spirited and welcome hang. (9 tracks; 69:45 minutes) Owens maintain his own excellent site at: In addition to playing on dates with Kurt Elling and Christian McBride (and many more) he’s produced notable recordings by bassist Matthew Rybicki and trumpeter Mike Cottone.


Venezuelan pianist Benito Gonzalez’ tunes have an intentional 1960’s jazz feel – he simply likes the music from that time – but his inspiration sounds all his own. An intense musician with a keen ear for composition and flow, Gonzalez employs a tested jazz crew – Jeff “Tain’ Watts on drums, bassist Christian McBride and saxophone players Myron Walden, Ron Blake and Azar Lawrence – on eight righteous neo-bop numbers and a sole cover of McCoy Tyner’s percussive “Blue On The Corner.” Tunes like “Circles” and “Taurus” play like a series a fastball pitches where every player connects and shares the leader’s unbridled passion. An affecting tribute to drummer Elvin Jones (“Elvin’s Sight”) generates a serious groove and cleverly reconciles the past/present thing that Gonzalez is after. Hard driving but still tuneful, “Circles” is fueled by Gonzalez’ abundant talent and solid faith in the expansive power of his awesomely talented band. (12 tracks; 72:37 minutes)


In a 1994 profile for “Ebony Man,” the saxophonist Kirk Whalum said, “The music I like to play and write encompasses the four elements I grew up with: Memphis R&B, gospel, rock, and jazz. The emphasis, though, is on melody, period.” And throughout his career, one that is strewn with top selling recordings, he’s pretty much stuck to his guns. A passionate improviser, Whalum combines a potent tone with an easy-going style that often escapes the attention of listeners who shudder at the sounds of smooth jazz.

Whalum is among the many contemporary musicians and singers who’ve found inspiration in Donny Hathaway’s music. Though he died in 1979 at the age of 33, Hathaway’s legacy as a soul singer and composer endures and provides Whalum with opportunity to blow the sweetest of sounds.    
Whalum’s take on Hathaway’s civil rights anthem, “Someday We’ll All Be Free,” has a laid-back finger-popping lilt, punctuated with light strings, over which sails Whalum’s clean, clear tone. His horn provides lush fills on “We’re Still Friends,” a slice of neo-soul and R&B pop carried by vocalist Musiq Soulchild. The percussive backbeat and bass lifted from Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” creates the hook for “Love, Love, Love,” featuring trumpeter Rick Braun, and it’s got that open-hearted positivity that flows from Whalum’s horn.  
Philly’s own Christian McBride plays both electric and acoustic bass on the album, laying down elastic grooves where necessary and a touch of class on “A Song For You.” Robert Randolph brings some Texas grit on his pedal steel guitar to “Trying’ Times” and Donny’s own daughter, Lalah Hathaway takes the spotlight on the affecting ballad, “You Had To Know.” Whalum’s status as a power hitter among smooth jazz fans shouldn’t prevent others from giving this a listen. What you’re really hearing on “Everything Is Everything” is honest music without the usual calories. (11 tracks; 59:42 minutes) 


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