by Dan Lehner
By now, bassist Christian McBride’s Inside Straight has pretty well established itself as the leading exponent of swinging music. What also needs to be said about the quintet, however, is how much stylistic and emotional diversity it can provide. The common thread in McBride’s band is that everything feels good–the lock-up in both the rhythm section and the sax/vibraphone frontline is tight and cookin'–but at the opening of Miller Theater’s concert series at Columbia University, the group still managed to push the concept of rhythmic clarity into several different idioms.
Of course, in the kingdom of swing, the medium-tempo blues still reigns supreme, and Inside Straight naturally made the most of it. On Milt Jackson’s “S.K.J.," vibraphonist Warren Wolf wrung as much bluesy inflection and varied articulation as humanly possible out of his instrument, non-discriminately switching between simple ideas and fleet bebop. Alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw injected more keening, pitch-bent wails than are usually heard from the otherwise cerebral player, sometimes limiting his chorus to one or two heavily bent resolutions. During McBride’s gospel-drenched “Used ‘ta Could," pianist Peter Martin covered left-hand bass duties, giving McBride the chance to get vocalistic with a bowed solo that groaned and trilled in a swaggering triple time.
The most tenderly surprising moment came during “Where Are You,” which was both the sole ballad and songbook standard of the set. With delicate and expressive bowing, McBride ornamended both the melody and solo ideas like a classical violinist. Martin was no less delicate, but took a completely different direction, creating a complex and unexpected pas de deux with his two hands. Audiences of Inside Straight should consider themselves lucky–the band keeps bringing what they always do and only gets tighter in doing so.