CHRISTIAN McBRIDE BAND: Sci-Fi (Verve)With Sci-Fi, Christian McBride has scored his best album since 1996's Number Two Express. The eleven tracks here run the gamut from heartfelt ballads to serious fusion workouts, and all points in between. McBride, who is at home on both acoustic and electric bass, also doubles on keyboards. His core band--Ron Blake (saxes), Shedrick Mitchell (keyboards) and Rodney Green (drums)--and the assorted guest musicians on the CD dive headfirst into the mainly jazz-rock sounds with power and precision.

From the time you hit the play button, highlights abound on the Philadelphia native's latest album. His take on Steely Dan's "Aja" is nothing short of electrifying. Blake and Mitchell turn in inspired solos on the song, and David Gilmore's guitar solo absolutely smokes. "Uhura's Moment Returned" is a combination of the theme from Star Trek and the Oliver Nelson standard, "Stolen Moments." Mitchell shines once again on this tune, soloing effortlessly over McBride's walking bass line. After an acoustic bass solo, McBride is rejoined by the rest of the band on the song's theme.

"Xerxes" is a freeform/fusion workout, featuring Herbie Hancock on piano, and a brilliant acoustic solo by McBride. One of the best tracks on the CD is "Science Fiction." Inspired by the film, The Matrix, the song sounds a lot like Return to Forever, with exceptional musicianship from everyone involved. Bass clarinetist James Carter turns in a particularly sensitive performance on The Police's "Walking on the Moon." McBride carries the melody, with Carter filling in all the spaces, as they turn Sting's reggae classic into a moody, introspective ballad.

McBride pays homage to a number of his bass influences on Sci-Fi. One of the best is his cover of Jaco Pastorius' classic from the Weather Report days, "Havona." Retaining all of its frenetic fury, and then some, this is another of the many highlights on the CD, with a killer solo by McBride and outstanding drumming from Green. The pace slows down a bit on "I Guess I'll Have to Forget." The song features a beautiful Toots Thielemans solo, and shows yet another aspect of the musical talents of this group. "Via Mwandishi" is McBride's personal tribute to Herbie Hancock's seminal fusion group of the 70's. It starts off slow, then gets into some serious funk. The song's bassline is one of the most memorable on the disc.

Simply put, Sci-Fi is one of the best jazz albums of the year. It's sure to garner some new fans for McBride, and keep the existing ones happy as well.

© 2000 Steve Marshall

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