First Night: Virtuoso mixes soul and jazz

Christian McBride Jazz Cafe London
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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 fellow who plays trumpet, it's easy to grandstand. But McBride has to stand with an upright bass besides encouraging his small, disciplined group of post-boppers into their best form.

He seems like a veteran of the scene already, and since he is young - he won't turn 30 until the next century - jazz has had to take its place with other kinds of black music in his affections. His admiration for James Brown is unstinting. Yet his great gift is for fashioning the kind of steady, supple jazz time which seems effortless. It is one of the trickiest elements in playing the music, 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. His most recent recording, 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.

Tim Warfield is a tenor saxophonist of unhurried, steadfast demeanour 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. 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 delicacy and wit.

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