Once I began my journey into discovering jazz‚ I learned quickly about the music's rich history‚ how it's a profound language that naturally evolves and‚ for the most part‚ its genius is too often widely ignored. I began to connect the dots between eras‚ the sessions‚ the trios‚ quartets‚ or big bands that define the times. I discovered all the musicians eventually cross paths‚ all of them in the same circle‚ making it happen together. That's how I got turned on to Christian McBride's playing. He was the Young Lion playing with old masters. Whether it was Jimmy Smith‚ McCoy Tyner or Dave Brubeck‚ McBride was the man playing bass.
On the Christian McBride Band's‚ Live at the Tonic‚ the new three-disc set coming out on Ropeadope Records this May‚ the essence of jazz unfolds. You can hear the celebration of the past‚ the sounds of today‚ and it hints at the sound of the future. Like any good conversation‚ it all happens on the fly. One take; it's ours now. Call it history. McBride is steering this ship with his musical duality fully intact: one part messenger‚ and one part inventor.
Mike McKinley: You just finished a couple shows with your band. You've been playing with these guys for a little while now‚ so how do you think things are going? What's the chemistry like?
Christian McBride: It's funny‚ we had a conversation just a couple nights ago about how certain bands‚ they have their time. There's a period there when you can tell it's climbing‚ you can tell it's leveled off‚ and you can tell when it's starting to wind down a little bit. And just because of the nature of the business with jazz groups‚ there's really not enough work for anybody in the jazz community to be committed to one band. That's almost impossible. We like to say that all of jazz itself is one big band with interchangeable parts. But we feel pretty special that we've been able to keep the same personnel intact for six years now‚ and we've made the most of every gig we've ever played together and we all kind of collectively decided that it doesn't feel like it's going to tail off anytime soon. Not that we have any high … not that we're looking to be like the Rolling Stones‚ but it's nice to know we've been together this long and vibes that are still there are pretty strong.
MM: So‚ obviously‚ you're breaking new ground together.
CM: I like to think so. I think we also collectively thought to ourselves‚ instead of trying to bang our heads against the wall and try to reinvent the wheel every time we go onstage‚ let's just do what we do‚ but try to do it a little better each night. And if we break new ground‚ then right on. But if not‚ at least we know we played our instruments to the ends of the earth.
MM: So how much do you think when you go out and play each night with this band‚ how much is letting it fly‚ in terms of the improvising side of things? Like how much risk? Is that part of the conversation when you guys go out?
CM: Well‚ there are different levels of risk involved. With a group like ours‚ since we've been playing together for so long‚ to do something that is quote-unquote risky‚ we have to try really hard because we know each other so well. And we know each other musically very well‚ so we kind of know where the other person is going to turn‚ what roads you're going to take on this improvisation‚ but nevertheless‚ that still makes it fun. Like I said‚ we try to really push the envelope every night‚ but not necessarily reinvent the wheel.
You got a guy like Geoff Keezer‚ who's just a total genius over there on all those keyboards‚ and then Ron [Blake]‚ our saxophonist‚ who is one of the few saxophonists in the world who doesn't play a lot of notes. That's why I think his style is so special. In the post-Coltrane era every saxophone player plays a lot of notes. But Ron really takes his time and builds a solo and phrases very well. He sings a lot through the horn. Even in the most chaotic moments onstage‚ he's still there just kind of … he almost plays the saxophone like a rhythm instrument‚ like it's a drum or a bass‚ so to speak‚ or a cello. I mean‚ he can go there with the Coltrane style needless to say‚ but he doesn't base his entire musical journey on that alone. And Terreon Gully‚ the drummer‚ here's a guy who's been pretty well-versed in not only the jazz world‚ playing with Abbey Lincoln and Jacky Terrasson and Dianne Reeves‚ but he's also done a lot of hardcore R&B gigs with Lauryn Hill and Roy Ayers. He's kind of been all over the place doing hip-hop and… Terreon is getting popular because he's one of the few drummers who can actually play programmed drum fills on a real drum kit‚ like how most hip-hop producers do‚ like all the programmed drum fills‚ with this thick hi-hat and these real tricky bass drum patterns. Terreon can really play that‚ so it's pretty scary how he can have that real loose organic jazz feeling to sounding like a machine at the drop of a hat. So with all of these kinds of elements onstage‚ the limits are‚ I mean‚ it's boundless.
MM: Sounds like this band is a lot of fun.
CM: Yeah‚ it's a whole lot of fun. I think the toughest part of this band is we don't get a chance to work that often. We probably spend three or four months of the year together as a unit. And within that time period that we're together‚ it gets kind of spotty. A week here‚ few days off‚ a week there‚ few days here‚ a night off‚ and another night here. It's really spotty‚ so it's been difficult to work on new material. But just with this last engagement we did on the West coast‚ we just finished yesterday‚ we actually got in about four or five new songs. So that's a really great feeling‚ because now we get to renew all of that energy between the group‚ which is already there‚ but we get to put it into some new material that we haven't played before.
MM: Yeah‚ it keeps it fresh. I've been listening to the new live disc that you've got coming out‚ Live at the Tonic. This features just your band on one disc‚ and on the other two discs you invite a bunch of friends to sit in.
CM: That's right. That's right.
MM: It's really cool‚ very much "It is what it is. Let's put it out."
CM: Exactly. Right. Mistakes and all. Yup. It's kind of hard to call them mistakes. We'll call it the rough edges. [Laughter]
MM: There's no polish on it.
CM: Exactly. That's right.
MM: So‚ yeah‚ at the Tonic‚ you got some of these incredible players on here‚ sitting in with the band. The spectrum of who these musicians are is all over the place as well.
CM: Yeah‚ it definitely was. But I think that's good. It kind of shows off the diversity factor not only of the band‚ but in jazz in general. A guy like [pianist] Jason Moran‚ who jazz critics are trying to hold onto for themselves‚ is a guy who can stretch out unbelievably.
MM: Yeah. It was interesting talking to him. One of the things kind of in the nature of jazz -- I guess my history with it -- it's been this open‚ evolving language. And one of the things with him‚ you know‚ he grew up and hip-hop became the thing. And so that's kind of an interesting angle.