Cutting an album at the Village Vanguard is both a rite of passage and an attempt to take one’s own place in a particularly hallowed hall of live recordings. But it’s evident here, with the opening take of Wes Montgomery’s “Fried Pies,” that Christian McBride’s trio is more than capable of advancing on both fronts. McBride dubs drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. his American Express, as he’s loath to leave home without him, and with the kick the man provides it’s no wonder. The opener has a taut, bracing solo that pianist Christian Sands helps transition into a percussive duet before the central refrain comes roaring back in, McBride’s bass encircling the driving progressions of his counterparts.
But the band really excels in the more cooled-down moments, the slow-burning grooves that can have a folk-like simplicity in terms of construction but an emotional grandeur befitting the best of the American Songbook. Sands’ “Sand Dune” has the free-flowing downward elegance of that beachy mound itself, and his playing suggests the deep reflection that can come with the tide washing in-jazz going the Thoreau route. “Car Wash” is basically an extended riff on the 1970s funk song, and not the memorable closer one might wish for. But the treatment of Billie Holiday’s “Good Morning Heartache,” with McBride’s bowed notes coupling with Owens’ bluesy fills, intimates that there is a hurt coming on, with music tasked to assuage it. Not going to be a problem with these guys.