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Live Review: Warren Wolf and Christian McBride

January 6, 2014

wolfWhen a visiting jazz star says nice things about the local musicians he’s playing with, that doesn’t mean much; he’s just being polite. But when that star breaks into a spontaneous grin during the locals’ solos, that does tell you something. That happened again and again when poll-topping bassist Christian McBride played with Baltimore’s Warren Wolf (pictured), Alex Brown, Billy Williams and Akua Allrich at An Die Musik Live Sunday night.

It’s no surprise that McBride would be smiling at Wolf, for the vibraphonist has been recording and touring with McBride for five years. But it was heartening to see the bassist, looking resplendent in his gold tie, bald dome, and white-frame glasses, breaking into smiles over the members of Wolf’s own band. And why not? Pianist Brown (from Columbia, Maryland) was tying and untying knots in the brisk momentum of Freddie Hubbard’s “Theme for Kareem,” and Williams’ drum solo at the tune’s end did something similar, alternately hitting the brakes and gas pedal. Vocalist Allrich appeared on only one song in the first set, but her reading of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” was spectacular, full of emotional slides but never less than precise in pitch and never less than full in tone.

Wolf, just back home after three weeks with his band in Doha, Qatar, displayed his rare ability to incorporate classical quotes into swinging jazz tunes on two of his own compositions: “Gang Gang” (on McBride’s People Music album) and “Wolfgang” (the title track of Wolf’s latest solo album). Hammering the vibes with his blue-tipped mallets, Wolf would shift with ease from sheer lyricism to swinging groove. On the latter number, McBride responded with a solo so bluesy, it seemed to be talking back.

McBride wasn’t the only established jazz star in the room. Cyrus Chestnut was sitting in the back row, murmuring approval after every solo he heard. When Wolf invited the pianist to come up and help them out on Gene Ammons’ “Red Top,” Chestnut happily obliged and added his own fireworks to the show.

The next jazz show at An Die Musik Live is Tuesday, January 7, featuring Double Date, a quartet led by Brad Linde.