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The name Inside Straight alludes to the nature of this particular Christian McBride quintet: What you get is straightahead groove of the highest order. For these live 2014 sessions, the bassist was joined by Steve Wilson on alto and soprano saxophone, vibraphonist Warren Wolf, pianist Peter Martin and drummer Carl Allen. Culled from three consecutive performances at the Village Vanguard, the album features seven originals (four by McBride, two by Wolf, one by Wilson), and the music’s aflame from start to finish.
The album opens with Wolf’s “Sweet Bread,” a spritely swinger with a charmingly filigreed melodic line that pairs particularly well with the composer’s ability to improvise with both a lithe touch and propulsive enthusiasm. Similarly, Steve Wilson’s soprano shines brightly on his own composition, “Ms. Angelou,” a tender reflection in honor of the poet and civil rights activist; the performance is all the more poignant since Angelou had died earlier in 2014.
That tune, as well as Wolf’s “Gang Gang” and McBride’s “Fair Hope Theme,” appeared on Inside Straight’s People Music from the previous year, but they feel all the more energized by the appreciative audiences in this revered setting where, as the leader announces, the group was born in 2007.
The album concludes with McBride’s “Stick & Move,” a title that invokes boxing and inspires an opening “round” between Wilson and Wolf, followed by a fine solo by Martin that acts as both statement and segue: After his chorus, the band drops out for a ferocious series of exchanges between bass and drums. McBride unfurls ebullient lines with jaw-dropping dexterity, and Allen responds with torrents of textured phrases. Unaccompanied, the two trade jabs for five exhilarating minutes. It’s a knockout. - Sascha Feinstein