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Christian McBride Big Band: For Jimmy, Wes and Oliver (Mack Avenue)

A review of the bassist's third big band album, and tribute to Jimmy Smith, Wes Montgomery, and Oliver Nelson

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Christian McBride Big Band: For Jimmy, Wes and Oliver
The cover of For Jimmy, Wes and Oliver by the Christian McBride Big Band

Christian McBride’s first two big-band albums won Grammys. The new one is grounded in specific history. Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery recorded two LPs in 1966, The Dynamic Duo and Further Adventures of Jimmy and Wes. McBride says he and his classmate Joey DeFrancesco “wore out the grooves” of these records when they were in high school in Philadelphia. DeFrancesco fills Smith’s organ role on McBride’s new release.

The Smith/Montgomery recordings had pieces for big band arranged by Oliver Nelson and also quartet tracks. So does For Jimmy, Wes and Oliver. But McBride’s tribute is more spiritual than one-for-one. He repeats only four tunes from the 1966 albums. All are big-band tracks. It is fun to hear “Night Train” again, powering headlong over the rails, and to hear McBride’s tight large ensemble crack “Milestones” like a whip.

The quartet here is DeFrancesco, Mark Whitfield, McBride, and drummer Quincy Phillips. The first three take almost all the solos. Given this chance to stretch out, DeFrancesco reveals the enormous range of his B-3 chops, and Whitfield reveals that he should be mentioned more often on lists of the top jazz guitarists.

On this swinging, hard-driving album, two rapt quartet ballads stand out. On “I Want to Talk About You,” Whitfield creates gentle tension by continuously postponing melodic closure. On “The Very Thought of You,” DeFrancesco makes his boisterous instrument whisper in your ear. McBride also solos, pizzicato and arco respectively, on these two love songs. In his hands, an acoustic bass can shamelessly expose the human heart.

This is not an album for adventurous listeners who require risk in their jazz. But this conservative, impeccably executed music is full of joie de vivre. In times like these, who can’t use more of that?

Preview, buy or download For Jimmy, Wes and Oliver on Amazon!

Speakin’ My Piece with Christian McBride

Christian McBride: The Long Birth of a Movement

Thomas Conrad

Thomas Conrad has a BA from the University of Utah and an MA from the University of Iowa (where he attended the Writers Workshop). He taught English at Central State University in Ohio, then left the academic world for the private sector. His affiliation with publications such as JazzTimes, Stereophile, The New York City Jazz Record and DownBeat has enabled him to sustain active involvement in two of his passions: music and writing.