Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Christian McBride pays homage to his soul side

Posted By on Tue, Jan 12, 2010 at 4:00 PM

click to enlarge MAKING IT FUNKY: James Brown (left) schools Christian McBride.
  • MAKING IT FUNKY: James Brown (left) schools Christian McBride.

When Christian McBride massages his bass strings, the past and present of jazz and soul come together. Though his influences range all over the musical map, his mellow, earthy tone and smooth, funky style come courtesy of a couple of artists who share the same last name but are worlds apart musically.

Until he met acoustic jazz bassist Ray Brown, McBride was high-strung. Caught up in a macho string-pulling contest that had bassists in the '70s hiking their strings almost an inch and a half away from the fingerboard, McBride was pulling so hard that he risked ripping the flesh off his fingers. With his warm tone and fluid style, Brown convinced McBride that lower was better. "Brown was able to pull this lovely sound out of the instrument without gorilla-ing the instrument," says McBride, who adapted a similar approach, showcased on his latest release, Kind of Brown.

Another musician named Brown caught McBride's attention early as well. Although he played with jazz greats Freddie Hubbard, Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner, McBride wanted to play with and record James Brown with a big band, but Brown kept saying no. Finally, in 2006 when McBride was appointed creative chair of the L.A. Philharmonic jazz series, James Brown agreed to let McBride conduct him in a 75-minute performance of his 1970 classic big band album Soul On Top. It was the most memorable experience of McBride's life. "He was a guy who could convince you that one and one was three," McBride says of James Brown. "He keeps telling you because he really believes it and after a while you start thinking, 'Well, maybe it is three.'" McBride pays homage to the Godfather with a fat, muscular bowed lead on "Night Train" from '94's Gettin' to It that's as funky as Brown's screaming vocal version.

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(Photo by David Perry)

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