"Christian is the perfect artist for our summer series," says Panoff. "He's very versatile, a lot of players play in only one style, but the word "only" isn't is his vocabulary. And Richmond audiences love him."
McBride's range is demonstrated on at 168 recordings, playing with everyone from jazz giants to Sting's current band. It's an incredible resume for a musician who turned 30 at the end of May. In acoustic settings, his huge, articulate playing is in a direct line from classic players like Ray Brown or Paul Chambers. On electric he ranges from the lyrical to propulsive James Brown funk.
Each of the Modlin Center performances places him in a very different context: first as featured soloist in a big band, then as leader of his own, long-established band, and finally in an all-star chamber-jazz setting.
The Wednesday appearance with the Great American Music Ensemble will spotlight McBride as both player, arranger and conductor. "It's not something that anyone gets to do much of," he says. "Writing for big bands is a dying art," the bassist says. "I wrote big band versions of two of my songs ('In a Hurry' and 'In the Shade of the Cedar'), the standard 'I Should Care' and a piece that was commissioned by the Lincoln Center, 'Blues in Alphabet City.'" The program will also include an arrangement of "Work Song" from G.A.M.E. leader Doug Richards and a "big surprise" which McBride steadfastly refuses to disclose.
On Saturday night, the Christian McBride Band (with Ron Blake, saxophone; Terreon Gully, drums; Geoff Keezer, piano) takes the stage. While this is McBride's second year as artistic director, it is the third Modlin performance by his genre-defying band. Inspired in part by the righteous chops and hip-shaking appeal of Cannonball Adderly's '60s bands, the group has found fresh possibilities in what seemed to be a played-out form: jazz rock fusion.
Their most recent recording, "Sci Fi" was one of 2000's best releases.
"One of the biggest challenges is to play music that draws on, but is not trapped in the past. After all, there have been 30 years of music since fusion, including techno, house and electronic avant-garde. I think the new record is going to reflect all that," says McBride.
The series closes with "Crossing the Line," a two-part chamber jazz program that opens with the Richmond premier of composer Dick Hyman's "Quintet for Piano and String" (performed by pianist Ruth Laredo and the Shanghai String Quartet) and closing with a trio including Hyman, McBride and jazz violinist Regina Carter.
McBride says that the repertoire may be difficult for Regina and him, but "She's a great player, and I've been dying to brush up my classical chops."
Another jazz/classical crossover, McBride playing Schubert's "Trout" with the Shanghai String Quartet, had its genesis in musician-to-musician conversations during last years' festival. "It will happen at some point but not this year," McBride says. " We couldn't work out the dates."
Maybe next year. McBride has already signed on for 2003.
"Chris is an able partner in every sense of the word, driving the artistic focus," Panoff says. "I don't love everything that we do the series needs to do more than reflect my taste but I love this." S
The University of Richmond's Modlin Center's Modlin Summer Nights festival runs June 5 11. Tickets are $15-$18. Call 289-8980 for schedule information and tickets.
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