Mack Avenue Records
As one of the highest-profile workaholics in jazz—is there ever a night when this guy isn’t playing with someone, somewhere?—it’s a wonder bassist Christian McBride can find the time to make leader recordings at all. Following a one-off big-band outing, this is his second with Inside Straight, the acoustic quintet he formed in 2009. Like that year’s Kind of Brown, People Music feels like a mental reboot, an opportunity for McBride to call the shots on his own terms with some handpicked compadres.
There are actually two different Inside Straights here: The constants are McBride, vibraphonist Warren Wolf and alto saxophonist Steve Wilson. Drummer Carl Allen (who appeared on the debut) and pianist Peter Martin are on six of the eight tracks; they’re replaced by pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. on the remaining two. It’s that latter lineup—the new Christian McBride Trio—that kicks things off with McBride’s “Listen to the Heroes Cry,” a springy showcase that affords Sands, Wilson and Wolf ample solo space and establishes the band’s propensity for investigating the outer reaches of a melody, a setup that’s largely repeated on Sands’ “Dream Train,” this configuration’s other contribution.
The tracks featuring the Martin-Allen lineup tend to stretch the definition of Inside Straight, to open the group to new possibilities. The measured ballad “Ms. Angelou,” by Wilson—all but the drummer contribute tunes—is both dulcet and blue (not unlike its inspiration’s writing), and features one of McBride’s most minimal, and most satisfying, solos. It’s followed by a roaring remake of McBride’s galvanic “The Movement, Revisited,” a paean to civil-rights leaders he composed in 1998, its urgency still intact, while the album-closing “New Hope’s Angel,” a tribute to the late Whitney Houston, is soulful and soothing.