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Although McBride is only 34, he is currently first-call bassist with the likes of the one-time John Coltrane pianist McCoy Tyner, Sting and the vocalist Diana Krall. As well as being in demand for top-flight sessions he is a busy jazz bureaucrat, holding directorships for the Jazz Museum of Harlem and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Yet far from diluting his energy, his workaholic schedule seems to give his playing added force and focus, and at this fresh-from-the-aircraft gig he delivered two energetic and edgy sets, laden with historical references but original in concept.
McBride takes the best of 1970s funk and fusion, adds a liberal dose of classic modern jazz and gives it all a contemporary twist. On both upright bass and bass guitar, he revels in the bassist’s role of chief back- room boy. His primary concerns are rhythmic foundation and spot-on cues, from the bustling spacey lines of the first set’s opening “I’m Coming Home” to the discordant dead stops of the second set’s finale, “Sonic Tonic”.
When he did emerge into the limelight, he deftly mixed the fleet-fingered runs of a Jaco Pastorius – celebrated by a cover of Weather Report’s “Havona” – with the full-on thump of Charles Mingus in his prime, his spectacular closing feature lacing pyrotechnic flurries of notes with familiar blues calls and gospel chants.
McBride’s quartet shared his concern with group dynamics and controlled virtuosity. Ron Blake let the rhythm section fill in the spaces before bursting into the dense, angular lines of contemporary fusion. The drummer Terreon Gully cruised through broken marches, late-night blues and high-tempo swing, so closely tuned-in that he would mark a soloist’s improvised off beat.
The scene-stealer tonight, though, was Geoffrey Keezer. Wedged between Ronnie Scott’s grand piano and his own Fender Rhodes, both topped with a synthesiser, he juxtaposed fuzz-box distortion and smoky electric piano from his right hand with acoustic resonance from his left, lifting the crowd with dizzying unison melodies, shimmering harmonies and awkward counterpoints, all while remaining firmly in the groove.
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