When you possess virtuoso technique and a genuine passion for tradition, being conservative doesn’t mean being careful or tepid. That’s the clarion message sent by bassist-leader Christian McBride and his quintet Inside Straight on their second record, People Music.
The populism in the title is reinforced by the crowd-pleasing panache with which the group resurrects the classic bop-ensemble synergy most commonly associated with the Blue Note label in the ’50s and ’60s. There are broad, languid melodies undergirded by percolating rhythms and clean, incisive interplay. There are staccato toe-tappers that invite spirited solos, and a broad canvas is invariably stretched out to accommodate them.
It helps that Warren Wolf is arguably the most exciting and accomplished bop vibraphonist since Bobby Hutcherson, both a striking soloist and team player whose rhythmic and harmonic sensibilities mesh with pianists Peter Martin and (on two tracks) Christian Sands and saxophonist Steve Wilson create a distinctive signature for the group. That said, there is no question that McBride is the leader here. There’s no mistaking his rugged, rubbery pizzicato pulse. Even playing at a breakneck pace, he never substitutes flash for context and conception.
Choice tracks include Wolf’s “Gang Gang,” with its circular groove spiraling out a series of superb solos; McBride’s vibrant and driving “The Movement Revisited,” and a pair of ballads with Wilson on soprano that are paeans to female African-American icons — Wilson’s “Ms. Angelou” for the writer-poet Maya Angelou and McBride’s closing “New Hope’s Angel” for Whitney Houston.