Christian McBride Big Band – For Jimmy, Wes, and Oliver – Mack Ave Records #MAC 1152 – 71:54 – ****1/2
Christian McBride has risen to the most elite status among jazz musicians. He now has his own weekly jazz broadcast, as well as anchoring his big band, while serving as a mentor to young bassists. When he came onto the scene in the early 1990s, he was recognized by older established jazz icons as the heir apparent to Ray Brown, as a future bass star. He embraced both traditional jazz idioms as well as tackling soul and funk influences. McBride has largely returned to post bop as his primary outlet. He has earned six Grammy awards, and finds himself as a yearly winner of both Downbeat Critics, and Fans polls, as the top bassist on the scene today.
His stature has enabled him to take on projects of his own choosing as his gravitas and reputation guarantee that jazz audiences will want to check out his latest “project.”
Such is the case with Christian’s third big band release, For Jimmy, Wes, and Oliver. It’s a homage to Jimmy Smith, Wes Montgomery, and Oliver Nelson. Jimmy Smith is known as the godfather of the Hammond B-3 organ. His 1960s Blue Note recordings, followed up by many Verve label albums, are both legendary and highly collectible. In 1966, for Verve, he teamed with iconic guitarist, Wes Montgomery to record over a three day period (in Rudy Van Gelder’s studio!) two albums (The Dynamic Duo and Further Adventures of Jimmy and Wes), that combined both big band and quartet settings. The big band tracks were arranged by Oliver Nelson, whose massive workload in both film and big band arranging, took a toll on his physical health leading to a tragic death at the age of 43.
To tackle this undertaking of paying homage to these jazz giants, McBride has brought in today’s leading Hammond B-3 organist (who also has his own jazz broadcast), Joey DeFrancesco. Joey also just won the latest Downbeat polls. Christian and Joey go back nearly forty years to their high school years in Philadelphia. Mark Whitfield reprises Wes Montgomery in the guitar chair, and Quincy Phillips completes the quartet. The horn section of McBride’s big band is made up of many of today’s leading session players, many of who have their own groups. A perusal of the big band’s line-up is sufficient to entice the purchase of this CD, even without the lead artists. (The trombone section is beyond compare…)
The tracklist for this tribute comprises four tracks from the Smith/Montgomery albums, plus a mix of classic standards and originals written by McBride, DeFrancesco, and Whitfield. It opens with the Jimmy Forrest burner, “Night Train.” It sets the standard for what is to come. The horns wail in a classic big band setting, before Mark Whitfield steps in with finger picking that channels Montgomery. Joey D. provides a “Smith-like” Hammond gentle work-out. “Road Song” has Mark and Joey explore the captivating familiar melody, while the horns provide some prodding. Freddie Hubbard’s “Up Jumped Spring” is done by the quartet at an easy-going tempo, and Christian’s bass is a highlight.
Miles Davis’ famous “Milestones” (dig the horns opening…) has Mark center stage. “Down by the Riverside” from The Dynamic Duo album, gives the spiritual a shot of adrenaline. A DeFrancesco original, “Don Is” ribs the current president of Blue Note Records, Don Was. Christian’s robust bass prowess is on full display in a quartet setting.
“Medgar Evers Blues” from Whitfield, in honor of the civil rights stalwart, is soulful with Mark’s easy going lines punctuated by the horns comping. “Pie Blues” is a joint effort by Joey and Christian that closes the album with some “grease” as the trombones bellow, and Joey D’s Hammond adding “lubrication.”
This tribute CD is top notch from beginning to end. It does its honorees proud with both sophistication, swing, and class, presented in well recorded acoustics. Well done…
Up Jumped Spring
The Very Thought of You
Down by the Riverside
I Want to Talk About You
Medgar Evers Blues
Christian McBride – bass
Joey DeFrancesco- Hammond organ; Mark Whitfield – guitar; Quincy Phillips – drums
Frank Greene, Freddie Hendrix, Brandon Lee, Nabate Isles, Anthony Hervey – trumpets
Michael Dease, Steve Davis, James Burton, Douglas Purviance – trombones
Steve Wilson, Todd Bashore, Ron Blake, Dan Pratt, Carl Maraghi – woodwinds
For more information, please visit the Mack Avenue Records Website: