Unlike most of the ensembles that have appeared in the Folly Theater’s jazz series, the members of the Christian McBride Trio opted to huddle together Saturday night on the venue’s spacious stage.
The renowned bassist McBride stood with his right hip against the piano played by Christian Sands. The left side of his instrument was propped inches from the drum kit manned by Jerome Jennings.
The utility of the close quarters quickly became apparent. The trio operated as a wonderfully cohesive entity, seamlessly working as a synchronized unit designed to demonstrate that mainstream jazz still contains a wealth of surprises.
McBride became one of the form’s most prominent artists soon after obtaining his first job as a professional jazz musician with the saxophonist Bobby Watson in 1989. The personable jazz ambassador from Philadelphia is conversant in several styles including jazz fusion and R&B.
His versatile background might have made an evening of McBride performing in a piano trio seem akin to watching the basketball magician Stephen Curry conduct a mundane clinic in shooting free throws. Rather than sounded stifled, however, McBride used the commonplace format as a forum for novel ideas and as a wellspring of fun.
Many members of the audience of about 600 quietly hummed the melody of “The Lady in My Life” as the trio delivered a seductive arrangement of the Michael Jackson song.
After confessing that “we had to learn how to play jazz but we didn’t have to learn how to play funk,” McBride led the audience in singing along to a grimy version of the 1976 Rose Royce dance hit “Car Wash.” The soulful groove the trio maintained on a hypnotic reading of Freddie Hubbard’s “Povo” was just as funky.
Even the solos maintained appealing cadences. McBride achieved sonic illusions with his instrument that most other bassists can only dream about. He added pianistic effects to "Tangerine" and made his bass sing like a vocalist on “Sand Dune.”
Capped by Jenkins’ madcap solo, a rendering of “Caravan” was a thrilling joyride. The funeral pace of an interpretation of “Good Morning Heartache” allowed Sands to display the alluring melodic grace he gleaned from mentors including Billy Taylor.
Aside from the eerie opening of “Good Morning Heartache” that featured ominous bowing by McBride and Sands’ discordant jabs, everything the band played was infused with effervescent swing. Rather than sounding like a clever variation on an overly familiar theme, however, the trio made the occasionally moribund idiom of mainstream jazz seem entirely new.
Bill Brownlee: @happyinbag
Tangerine; Caravan; Sand Dune; Povo; Baubles, Bangles & Beads; Good Morning Heartache; Car Wash; The Lady in My Life