Christian McBride & Inside Straight

Live At The Village Vanguard
(Mack Avenue)

At the end of a brightly swinging run through “Fair Hope Theme,” bassist and bandleader Christian McBride tells the Village Vanguard audience, “This band was born here.” Indeed, apart from a pandemic-induced break in 2020, Inside Straight has played the Vanguard every year since 2009; Live At The Village Vanguard was recorded there in 2014.

Funny thing is, the album has such a strong sense of connectedness and familiarity that it’s easy to believe we’re listening to a performance from much later in that run. Take, for instance, vibraphonist Warren Wolf’s solo on “Fair Hope Theme.” After a driving two-bar break, he unleashes a string of swung eighth notes. Carl Allen’s drums respond by kicking accents across the beat, which Wolf answers with a bouncy, broken cadence. Immediately, McBride’s bass goes from walking to punching afterbeats, filling the holes in Wolf’s line as Peter Martin’s piano slams accents on two and four. It’s just the start of Wolf’s solo, yet it delivers more rhythmic magic in a few seconds than many bands manage in an entire set.

Live At The Village Vanguard is full of bravura moments — the bass and drums exchange at the end of “Stick & Move” is especially spicy — but the band’s real strength is the writing. Between their varied rhythmic structures and use of orchestrated countermelody, the tunes are intricate and complicated, and because the thematic elements are sometimes continued under the solos, as on “Uncle James” or “Gang Gang,” the music offers the breadth of big band writing while maintaining the turn-on-a-dime immediacy of a small group. More, please.

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