Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Christian McBride - 2002 "Vertical Vision"

The celebrated jazz educator, master bassist, composer, and arranger, Christian McBride provides a new recording, told in a language of blazing originality. Vertical Vision is a multi-layered musical story that features beautiful solos, great grooves, funky riffs, and virtuosic performances by each bandmember. The recording also reveals McBride's passion for strong writing, brilliant accompaniment, and eclectic melodic voicings that stay with listeners long after the record ends. On this, his debut for Warner Brothers Jazz, McBride creates a dazzling weave of passionate rhythms, musical forms, and bass voicings with his longtime bandmate Ron Blake on saxophones and flute. Geoff Keezer on piano and keyboards, Terreon Gully on drums, David Gilmore on both acoustic and electric guitars, and Danny Sadownick on percussion add their flavorful interpretations, which elevate their performances to another level at each subsequent listen. The songs were inspired by and reflect a variety of subjects including the beautiful original "Song for Maya," which is played superbly by the ensemble and features the splendid flute work of Ron Blake. It is the most beautiful of all and the one that makes its way, like the family it has come to represent, into your heart. "Lejos de Usted" -- which is filled with beautiful horn voices and the vertical visions of McBride on acoustic bass -- is overflowing with Latin nuance and it is there, melding the borders between jazz and Latin rhythms. Top picks: "Technicolor Nightmare,""Tahitian Pearl," "Song for Maya," and "Boogie Woogie Waltz." Overall, Vertical Vision is a masterpiece that is beautiful, spirited, brimming with energy, and meets the same high standards set and achieved on Sci-Fi.

Vertical Vision is bassist Christian McBride's Warner Bros. debut. Equally adept on acoustic and electric, McBride is a long-running Sting sideman, as well as a member of the late Ray Brown's inspirational SuperBass trio. Christian's own band is a very stable unit, its rapport thoroughly road-tested. The disc opens with a brief burst of 78rpm crackling, before McBride abruptly rips that old shellac off the player and substitutes the heavy-rockin' funk of his "Technicolor Nightmare." Both McBride and keyboardist Geoffrey Keezer are fond of convoluted melody lines, but their prettiness is usually scarred by the serrated surfaces turned out by saxophonist Ron Blake and guitarist David Gilmore (not the member of Pink Floyd). It's Keezer's ballad tendencies that most retain their smooth sheen. McBride's "The Wizard of Montara" is short and boppish, while his "Ballad of Little Girl Dancer" is the funkiest number, loaded up with chirping synths. Other highlights are the intricate "Lejos de Usted" and Joe Zawinul's "Boogie Woogie Waltz," where McBride gets to burn up his own fingers. This whole disc is very much in thrall to swirling 1970s fusion, and given a hard, dense production style that sometimes errs towards dulled and muted, particularly with the brutal rock heaviness of Terreon Gully's drums. This muscular delivery of sometimes lightweight tunes manages to convey a mixed message of risk-taking danger and commercial adaptability.

There's a thing jazz artists have been struggling to do for as long as jazz has been identified as an authentic American popular music form: That's to make music that's true to its rich tradition of African-Creole rhythms (often filtered through a Latin lens), classical harmonies, and (perhaps the key element) improvisation, while still being listenable and accessible. What all too often happens is that one or more of these elements gets short shrift, and the music consequently slips into some kind of pseudo-jazz never-never land, a la "smooth jazz," "pop-jazz," or some other awful hybrid. Or, conversely, the music remains true to its heritage but becomes accessible only to the cognoscenti. To make hip, knowledgeable, authentic jazz is now and, really, always has been, something of a feat.
We seem to be blessed with an abundance of marvelous, even revelatory, jazz recordings that each in their own way meet the above criteria for greatness in what is still the first quarter of 2003. In no particular order, I would cite These Are the Vistas by the Bad Plus, Freak In by Dave Douglass, Smile by Jacky Terrasson, Grand Unification Theory by Stefon Harris, Cuban Odyssey by Jane Bunnett, Scolohofo, and certainly not least, Vertical Vision by the Christian McBride Band.
In some ways, Vertical Vision is my favorite of all. It's greatest virtue is its listenability. Seldom does such prodigious technique as McBride, still in his twenties, I believe, possesses get placed in such a listener-friendly setting. Any one of these cuts could be heard by a non-jazz fan and still be enjoyed, I believe. Yet, there is still plenty of compositional and improvisational meat for the hardcore jazzer.
Vertical Vision represents a significant step forward from McBride's last outing, Science Fiction. Each element-Latin, funk, straight-ahead, ballad-seems to be more organic, deeper, more natural. For Latin, check out the breezy, free-flowing "Song for Maya," with its glorious flute stylings by Ron Blake (here sounding more relaxed and mature than I've ever heard him). For funk, tune in on "Boogie Woogie Waltz," again featuring a transcendent Ron Blake, this time on soprano sax. Plus, that amazing keys-guy, the aptly named Geoff Keezer, gives perhaps his finest funk performance on record. Also on this track, check out Terreon Gully, who also magnificently contributes his prodigious percussion chops to Stefon Harris's Grand Unification Theory. I especially like his nuevo-African outro. For more funk, don't miss out on "Technicolor Nightmare," featuring some scorching guitar work from David Gilmore. For gorgeous balladry, dig into "Tahitian Pearl," with Keezer leading the way on some very tasty electric piano and Ron Blake persuasively swinging on tenor sax. Some of these cuts skate quite close to that dreaded musical hell-hole, "smooth jazz," but their compositional rigor combined with the players' deep commitment to and knowledge of the jazz tradition always steers them clear of disaster. For straight-ahead, there's "The Wizard of Montana," with its boppish feel, though tweaked, brilliantly, I'd say, by some very contemporary keys and electric bass treatments.
Highly recommended to anyone who loves gorgeous instrumental music.

I guess David Weitz really doesn't like this CD. That much has been established - TWICE! Once again, the comparisons to Weather Report are just plain LAZY. He says, "listen to the original version of "Boogie Woogie Waltz" - it's far superior" OF COURSE IT IS, SILLY!! It's the original! You still haven't addressed Christian on his own path. For goodness sakes, this is not his only CD. He now has, I think 5. Are you saying none of his 5 are worthy of compositional praise? Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny both have said he was a fine composer. You gonna argue with them? I dare you. 

Vertical Vision is superb. Many sax driven groups can sound the same and often try to recreate the sound of jazz in the 1960s. Christian McBride's band is different and on this album they incorporate electric instruments and modern rhythms. Every band member is a virtuoso and they all play with enthusiasm. There are some amazing solos but the music also sounds contemporary, it's jazz for the present day.

Ron Blake plays saxophones and flute, Geoff Keezer is on piano and keyboards, Terreon Gully plays drums, David Gilmore is on both acoustic and electric guitars, and Danny Sadownick plays percussion. It takes a few plays to really appreciate this album, but it contains some great music.

Track listing:

No.     Title     Length
1.     "Circa 1990 (McBride)"       0:16
2.     "Technicolor Nightmare (McBride)"       8:26
3.     "Tahitian Pearl (Geoffery Keezer)"       6:26
4.     "The Wizard of Montara (McBride)"       3:40
5.     "The Ballad of Little Girl Dancer (McBride)"       5:38
6.     "Lejos de Usted (McBride)"       4:52
7.     "Precious One (Geoffrey Keezer)"       5:54
8.     "Song For Maya (Ron Blake)"       4:08
9.     "Boogie Woogie Waltz (Joe Zawinul)"       9:09

Personnel:

    Christian McBride – Bass (Upright, Electric)
    Ron Blake – Sax (Tenor, Soprano), Flute
    Geoffrey Keezer – Piano, Keyboards
    Terreon Gully – Drums
    David Gilmore – Guitar(Acoustic, Electric)
    Danny Sadownick – Percussion

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