Six years have passed since the release of The Good Feeling, Christian McBride’s Grammy-winning debut as a big-band leader. But he’s been busy: During that time the bassist-composer became the voice of NPR’s Jazz Night in America and the artistic director of the Newport Jazz Festival, continued his work as an educator and a leader of small groups, served as a prolific sideman and more. For Bringin’ It, McBride arranged all but two tracks, going for a canny balance between the swinging, the funky and the cool; his charts are precise but he encourages the soloists to go out on a limb, the majority of them returnees from the earlier project. It’s a firecracker of a recording.
“Gettin’ to It,” the Tower of Power-esque lead track, one of three penned by McBride, pushes a trio of the band’s stars—trumpeter Freddie Hendrix, tenor saxophonist Ron Blake and guitarist Rodney Jones (who, sadly, appears on only one other track)—to the forefront. Hendrix’s first break is a relentless jolt, an early notification that this is not your grandpa’s big band.
Among the covers, “Mr. Bojangles,” the Jerry Jeff Walker tale of a tap-dancing arrestee, is the most surprising. Sung by Melissa Walker, McBride’s wife, with good-natured swagger, it’s a peppy shuffle here, and Joe McDonough’s trombone solo is restrained and well drawn. “I Thought About You,” the Johnny Mercer-Jimmy Van Heusen ballad, belongs to trumpeter Brandon Lee, who unreels an extended, elegiac solo that meshes conversationally with Xavier Davis’ firm piano bed and Quincy Phillips’ unencumbered drumming. McCoy Tyner’s “Sahara,” up next, shifts the mood considerably, all spark and flourish.
Throughout, McBride upholds his rep as the most reliable man in bassdom. Here he’s never ostentatious; he’s simply always where he needs to be, acting as if he’s just another band member even though you know he’s calling the shots on every sound we hear.