Christian McBride, one of two high-profile veteran bassists making debuts as big-band leaders this season (along with Ron Carter), offers 11 of his arrangements, a mix of original compositions and standards. McBride’s career orchestrating for large ensembles, as he recounts in the liner notes, began a little more than 15 years ago with a commission from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. That piece, “Bluesin’ in Alphabet City,” is here, and it’s a charmer, a bluesy swinger with the trombone section’s melody answered by trumpet and saxophone rejoinders before opening up for solos, including a showcase for the leader’s speedy fingerboard flights and chopping-wood tone. Bluesy swagger also marks “In a Hurry,” originally heard on McBride’s debut album and here building into a ferocious, criss-crossing bone battle between Michael Dease and James Burton. It’s topped off with the leader’s quick-witted bowed solo, a shouted chorus, and an extended, aptly explosive drum solo from Ulysses Owens Jr.
McBride turns in several more of his own tunes, originally played by smaller ensembles on his albums, including stomping opener “Shake ‘N Blake,” with its unison melody shared between McBride and tenor saxophonist Ron Blake, and a conversational solo by trumpeter Nicholas Payton; the R&B-grooving “Brother Mister,” with solos by Payton and alto saxophonist Steve Wilson; the color-shifting “Science Fiction”; and “The Shade of the Cedar Tree,” a mellow McBride favorite.
When it comes to standards, there aren’t any letdowns. “Broadway” is all sweet swing, with a loose and likable McBride solo, while the slow-moving “When I Fall in Love” and “The More I See You” both benefit from singer Melissa Walker’s beautifully paced reading of the vintage lyrics. McBride takes the melody of “I Should Care,” which grants solo space to Payton and tenor saxophonist Loren Schoenberg.