Jazz Round-Up: Christian McBride; Dave Douglas; Carl Allen & Rodney Whitaker
So much jazz, so little time. I wish I could write more about all three of these fine new releases, but for now, here are some quick hits.
Christian McBride – Kind of Brown
Given the status of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue as the more-or-less undisputed, essential jazz album of all time, Christian McBride’s punny wordplay for the title of his Kind of Brown is nothing if not audacious. But if the celebrated bassist doesn’t quite achieve the same level of sheer inspiration and effortless grace of Davis’ seminal work– who ever could?– he at least captures something of its cool, collected confidence. Kind of Brown is a jazz album of unforced, laid-back charisma, the kind of jazz that’s fun to listen to, that simply feels good: McBride and his band bring a light touch and a sense of playfulness to everything here, be it the easygoing swing of “Rainbow Wheel,” the Herbie Hancock-ish groover “Starbeam,” or the straight-ahead bop of “Stick and Move.” This is a classically-minded jazz recording that takes its cues from 60s Blue Note material, but is eclectic and far-reaching in its assembly of different moods and idioms from within that basic framework. And if it rarely swings as hard as some might like it to, its charms lie more in its relaxed demeanor and the ease with which these terrific players gell together.
Dave Douglas & Brass Ecstasy – Spirit Moves
Few modern-day jazz musicians are as creatively restless and unwaveringly eclectic as Dave Douglas– Don Byron and Herbie Hancock are the only names that immediately come to mind– so it shouldn’t be too surprising that the great trumpeter and bandleader follows up his excellent Moonshine with an album that is, in many ways, its polar opposite. Where Moonshine was a sleek, cool affair, Spirit Moves is warm and pleasingly ragged; and where Moonshine was a decidedly contemporary affair, heavily involved in DJ sampling and post-production work, this new one is agreeably old-timey and traditional. Specifically, it pays homage to the late Lester Bowie, whose aesthetic preferences are mirrored by Douglas’ own choice to leave the Keystone band behind for this one and work with an all-brass group, fittingly titled Brass Ecstasy. The players all sound great, and the meshing of all that brass makes this a much warmer, more organic sound than the chilly sounds of Moonshine. It’s also, in many ways, a much simpler affair– there aren’t as many knotty solos or left-field surprises as the last album– but it’s hardly boring, as Douglas and his group slyly work in everything from an upfront tribute to Bowie to influences of everything from New Orleans jazz to Memphis soul. All in all, it’s another delightful surprise from one of jazz’s most consistently delightful and surprising figures.
Carl Allen & Rodney Whitaker – Work to Do
There’s a lot of love on this one: In the liner notes, drummer Allen and bassist Whitaker speak both of their upbringing in the Baptist church and their love of mainstream pop and R&B, and those influences proudly inform Work to Do, a collaborative effort that incorporates pop songs and gospel overtones without ever sounding like anything other than good old-fashioned jazz. In fact, it might be a bit too old-fashioned for some– some of the more straightforward jazz moments, like the standard “A Time for Love,” don’t offer anything too surprising– but there are some terrific, creative moments in their readings of the Isley Brothers-penned title cut and an imaginative version of “Eleanor Rigby.” But the draw for this album is simply in its warmth, not just between the musicians but toward the material, which make this album feel very personal and grounded– and, ultimately, a lot of fun, as well.