Christian McBride first came to prominence as one of the generation of “Young Lions” that emerged in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. McBride, trumpeter Roy Hargrove, saxophonist Antonio Hart, pianist Benny Green and drummer Carl Allen were at the center of the “Jazz Futures,” a post-Marsalis-hype generation of players. He was the bassist for one of the earlier incarnations of Hargrove’s band, which also included Hart, drummer Greg Hutchinson, and the fabulous Marc Cary on piano. McBride was also a vital element of the Benny Green’s touring trio, particularly their stunning live recording Testifyin’: Live at the Village Vanguard (1992). McBride released his debut recording as a leader in 1995 with Getting’ to It. Sci-Fi his latest release is his fourth for the Verve Label, and like those previous releases, it confirms why McBride may be the definitive Jazz bassist of his generation.
The Julliard trained McBride, who turned 28 earlier this year, is the product of the same High School for Creative and Performing Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that produced Boyz II Men, Amel Larrieux, and Roots drummer and post-Soul impresario Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson. The Philly musical connection speaks to the range of styles that McBride chooses to interpret in his music. Having played with some of the giants of jazz, such as Freddie Hubbard and Benny Golsen, it is then not surprising to hear McBride’s versions of songs like the classic “Night Train” (Gettin’ to It) or the variety of pop/R&B tunes that he interpreted on Family Affair, including Stevie Wonder’s “Summer Soft,” Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “I’ll Write a Song for You,” and the obscure “I’m Coming Home,” which was recorded by The Spinners in 1974.
Sci-Fi is a collection of McBride originals and some fairly well known pop tunes, around a loose theme of science fiction. Hence one of McBride’s originals is titled “Uhura’s Moment Returned” (she of the short red dresses that kept little black boys like myself and no doubt more than a few little white boys interested in the original Star Trek series). In that vein, McBride does a stunning remake of Sting’s “Walking on the Moon” which features the brooding baritone sax work of James Carter. McBride also does more than competent interpretations of Stanley Clarke’s “Butterfly Dreams (Ron Blake’s sax solo is simply off-the-hook),” the late Jaco Pastorious’s “Havona” and “Aja,” originally written and recorded by Steely Dan. Of the four remakes, “Aja” and “Walking on the Moon” are the clear standouts. Arguably the best track on the recording is McBride’s own “Lullaby for a Ladybug,” which features one of two guest appearances by pianist Herbie Hancock (“Xerxes” is the other) and vocalese by the still under-appreciated (at least in my mind) Dianne Reeves. Other standout guest appearances include the legendary harmonicist Toot Theilemans (“I Guess I’ll Have to Forget”) and David Gilmore striking guitar work, particularly on “Aja.”