Christian McBride is not only the outstanding young bass talent in the jazz world today, he is also becoming quite a showman. Though the hour was very late, it was McBride’s set at the close of the night that hit the highest spots at Cal State L.A.’s comfortable Luckman Theatre, which ought to book more jazz shows like this one.
McBride’s latest album “Number Two Express” (Verve) hints that he is developing into a more interesting musician, but at the Luckman, he made it clear that he isn’t content to play the same old neo-bop tune. He let the band warm up the crowd a bit with a funky intro — Anthony Wonsey even played a vintage Fender-Rhodes electric piano for authenticity — and emerged from the wings like an R&B star, acting the personable MC in the Grover Washington mold. Then, on the same tune (“Whirling Dervish”), with a sudden lurch, the music abruptly shifted into tough post-bop gear and the quartet worked itself into a densely combustible lather. McBride’s command of the standup bass was awesome, really igniting and animating the band’s interplay.
OK, you say, the young lion is back in his traditional cage, circa 1965. But later on, in “Divergence,” McBride switched easily to electric bass and traveled suddenly in jazz-rock country, an unwieldy yet welcome excursion into the turbulent electric terrain that Miles Davis and Chick Corea explored in 1969. Then the show became a ’70s soul revue as McBride boogied through a “jukebox medley” of Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Commodores, Ohio Players and Herbie Hancock funk hits, even executing a few fancy dance steps. Clearly McBride has the ability and chutzpah to do anything he wants, and someday he may be able to fuse all of this diversity into something entirely new.
Joe Lovano —grounded in post-bop — is also taking some chances, though not as flamboyantly. Sometimes, his band’s able pianist Kenny Werner dropped out, and the music took on an Ornette Coleman-like conception, with Lovano’s tenor sax venturing gingerly into the avant garde. Later, the quartet swung with a hard-nosed fervor that seemed to veer from M-Base funk to Cannonball Adderley-vintage soul jazz. But on “Imagination,” there was a moving reminder of Lovano’s continued husky eloquence in mainstream ballad forms.