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Christian McBride: A Family Affair

On his third album as a leader, bassist Christian McBride reveals more shades of his musical makeup than he’s allowed to slip through in the past. Along with his renowned upright chops-typically solid and swinging in the great tradition of Ray Brown-the Philly phenom also reveals himself to be a Bootsy-influenced funkster, Jamerson-inspired groovemeister, and Jacoesque fretless electric soloist. All this, plus his first stab at lyric writing, makes A Family Affair McBride’s most diverse and widely appealing project to date.

Christian and his spirited crew kick it off with “I’m Coming Home,” a loose second-line groover replete with in-the-studio party atmospherics. Christian lays down a fat bassline on this catchy soul-jazz opus, and his mates urge him on with shouted encouragements during his bowed bass solo. Ramsey Lewis meets the Rebirth Brass Band.

For those who thought this talented Wynton Marsalis proteg was strictly a serious, straight-laced jazzbo, McBride penned “…Or So You Thought,” a surprising change of pace that has Christian stomping on the Mu-Tron box and funkin’ up the place on electric bass. He also breaks out the Mu-Tron and throws down more bubbling electric basslines on the slamming “Brown Funk (For Ray).”

For chops fans there’s a stunning display of McBride’s fretless facility on “Theme from Our Fairy Tale” while his harmonically involved “Wayne’s World” bears the stamp of its namesake, Wayne Shorter. After a stunning bowed intro to Stevie Wonder’s buoyant “Summer Song,” Christian switches to electric and alludes to James Jamerson’s signature groove on those early Stevie Motown sessions.

He puts a hip shuffle swing feel to Sly Stone’s “Family Affair” and bows the melody to Earth, Wind & Fire’s “I’ll Write a Song for You” in an intimate duet setting with guitarist Russell Malone. Tim Warfield contributes mightily with some heroic tenor playing on the stretching vehicle, “Open Sesame.” Charles Craig harkens back to vintage fusion on a few tunes with Fender Rhodes electric piano, and drummer Gregory Hutchinson swings fiercely throughout. Guest appearances by velvety-voiced soul crooner Wil Downing and soulful shouter Vesta enliven McBride’s two vocal numbers. You can tell Christian had some fun with this one.

Originally Published