Christian McBride Band with Russell Malone, Modlin Center for the Arts, Richmond, VA- 6/1
Not often do I find myself in a music experience that keeps me engaged for the entire performance. The first evening of the summer music series "Modlin Summer Nights" is one of these exceptions. This night featured town favorite the Christian McBride Band (now on ropeadope) with Rob Blake (tenor and soprano sax, flute), Terreon Gully (drums), Geoff Keezer (piano, keyboards), and Mr. McBride himself on acoustic and electric bass. In the intimate yet formal auditorium, the band opened with McBride on his fretless electric drawing in his audience with his resonance on "Say Something." The band next moved into a thick, sultry "Hibiscus" where McBride switched to his upright and Keezer laid down some techno-inspired chains. Blake stepped into the fold using his flute to initiate some call-and-response type methods with McBride. Gully remained tight yet laid-back.
McBride came to address the audience at this point. He explained that Richmond holds a special place for them as a band; they often try new material or experimentations when they play there. With that being said, we all primed our ears for something special.
Next, the band invited guitarist Russell Malone on stage to do his solo rendition of "You've Got a Friend." Malone mesmerized the audience as he manipulated the strings to sound not just like one but two guitars. The emotive quality of his playing the song engaged the audience who was now convinced this would be a night to remember. The greatness did not stop as the band came back onstage to perform an original Malone tune, "To Benny Golson." The guys then went into Milt Jackson's "Heartstrings" while purple lights flooded the stage.
The group of musicians then shifted directions, performing a piece from their Sci-Fi release, "Xerxes." This psychedelic cavalcade gained momentum as it sped along. Like a musical train, it built upon itself as Keezer inserted various effects such as cell phone tones and a child’s toy organ. He looked like a mad scientist behind his set of keys and grand piano; in fact, he reminded me of a mad Steve Burns (as in, Steve from "Blue’s Clues") concocting a potent mixture of musical poison. The band segued nicely into a pretty Bossa Nova, changing directions yet again. While they may have changed the direction of the music, the feel, flow, and vibe of the music remained constant. Next on the playing agenda was "I Guess I’ll Have to Forget," another tune from Sci-Fi.
For their final selection, they chose a tune from Vertical Vision, "The Ballad of Little Girl Dancer," which left the crowd breathless and standing for more. Finally, McBride came out to do a duo encore with Malone. While getting ready, somehow they slipped into the Brady Bunch's "Time to Change," complete with "Sha na na's." After the tease, the two went into a song by Earth, Wind and Fire, although they did not announce it and I did not recognize it. That lacking aside, this was the chocolate on the air, the ending credits for a killer movie, the pinnacle of the performance. The show had been solid, emotive, and inspiring.