Christian McBride has been quoted as a saying that “there’s nothing more modern than a standard with a push.” That’s a matter of opinion, but it’s surely been a winning recipe for the virtuoso bassist. Though powered by catholic interests, he has heartily evangelized the creative rigor of straight ahead jazz, a sound that has sadly been on the run for the last decade or so. Thanks to the playful commitment of his piano trio, it’s impressively revitalized on this portrait of a three-night Vanguard stretch.
Ceaselessly pushing an overt style of swing, Team McBride gives their cover material the kind of hyped attack and collective flair that provides audiences with lots of pleasure points. There’s no head-scratching going on here, no pregnant pause before the crowd discerns direction. The trio’s goals are straight up: connect as one, fill the designs with inventive action and tickle the patrons with some splash ‘n’ flash. Whether it’s the Wes Montgomery nugget that’s used as the album kick-off, or the Rose Royce outro tune, they make obviousness a key element of their art.
Precision and dynamics are paramount. Like the arrangements on the band’s 2013 debut, most everything is sketched to accommodate cues for punctuation and scripted change-ups – you can hear ‘em coming to some degree. But that foreshadowing doesn’t mar the interplay’s zest because each musician crushes his role. J.J. Johnson’s “Interlude” finds Sands dropping a two-fisted tsunami that gets loads of house, Owens lifts his mates on a galloping “Cherokee” and McBride dazzles with that impeccable intonation and constant oomph. Even the Billie Holiday ballad has a subtle fierceness. Turns out splash ‘n’ flash, when used judiciously and applied to various approaches (I didn’t even mention the gospel romp or the Michael Jackson nod), can still carry the day.