Album review: Christian McBride, “The Good Feeling” (Mack Avenue)

By John Lauler

For fans expecting something new to add to the big-band repertoire, Christian McBride’s “The Good Feeling” will be a letdown. His first full-length album of “new” big-band arrangements adheres to the blueprint of past greats such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Benny Goodman, failing to provide something unique and original. McBride succeeds in creating a fun, exciting, and fancy-free atmosphere. But the album ultimately drowns in tradition.

McBride invited some heavy hitters in for these sessions, including trumpeter Nicholas Payton and tenor saxophonist Ron Blake. Much of the album displays cohesive arrangements and the soloists, including the leader on burning bass, deliver fantastic performances on standards such as “When I Fall in Love,” “Broadway” and “I Should Care.” Yet the strongest songs are not the tired and worn standards, but McBride’s own compositions, including “Shake ‘N Blake,” “The Shade of the Cedar Tree,” and the real gem, “Science Fiction,” which combines traditional jazz forms with more modern treatments. But even here, the music sounds all too familiar, similar to the work of another jazz bass and arranging great, Dave Holland.

The 11 tracks are arrangements McBride has crafted over the past 15 years. Discussing the making of the album in his liner notes, he writes, “I was presented with various opportunities here and there to write for big band. I took each opportunity seriously. Whether I was writing for a professional, college or high school big band, I wanted to become a worthy arranger. I wanted to get better. Somewhere between December 1995 and February 2010, I wrote enough material to make a CD.”

With “The Good Feeling,” it is evident that McBride has worked tirelessly at the art of jazz arranging, but his results simply aren’t outstanding. Many fans are left with the question of when McBride will set his sights on new, uncharted territory.  Hopefully this album is the foundation upon which he will build, because the last thing jazz needs is yet another typical big-band album.