He's meaty, beaty, big and bouncy

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The Independent Culture
ONE OF the complaints about contemporary jazz is that it has no stars to attract an audience. Christian McBride, who is certainly larger than life, is doing his best. He loves the showmanship of the job. Like his Verve label-mate, Roy Hargrove, he thrives in front of an audience. For someone like Hargrove, a mercurial little fellow who plays trumpet, it's easy to grandstand. But McBride has, for the most part, to stand with an upright bass, besides encouraging his small, disciplined group of post-boppers into their best form.

Since he is as young as he is (he won't turn 30 until the next century - even though he seems like a veteran of the scene already) jazz has had to take its place with other kinds of black music in his affections. His admiration for James Brown is unstinting and constant. Yet his great gift is for fashioning the kind of steady, supple jazz time which seems effortless. It is actually one of the trickiest elements in playing, and because he does it so well, McBride is always in demand by other leaders.

The Jazz Cafe was lucky, then, to catch his band and find them in prime fettle. His most recent record, A Family Affair, is often one of those mish-mashes which major labels try to get out of players who have a broad range of sympathies, but here the music had seriousness and vitality in a near-perfect balance. "A Family Affair" itself, the old Sly Stone tune, became a serenely swinging essay on hard-bop blues.

Tim Warfield is a tenor saxophonist of unhurried, steadfast demeanour. He's rather like the old-time Chicago soul tenormen, and his tone is as broad as a church door. Rodney Green, at 19 another in the seemingly inexhaustible line of brilliant young jazz drummers, fired off dazzling rhythmic licks while breaking so little sweat that he felt no need to remove his jacket. Pianist Sheldrick Mitchell completes a formidable group. His solos are compendiums of McCoy Tyner's favourite phrases, but his comping behind the other players showed unexpected delicacy and wit.

If McBride's records are something of a truce between styles, his live playing is a celebration. Soul and jazz are rarely combined as well as this, and his playing mirrors the band: virtuosic, massive, intense. He has spoken of making a straight R&B record, but that would be a distraction and a pity. Jazz needs him.

Richard Cook

A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper