September 26, 2009

Joe McBride - Lookin For A Change

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a personal perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Lookin’ For A Change is the aptly titled and brand new release from smooth jazz pioneer Joe McBride. A departure from his own special brand of piano led contemporary jazz, the album provides interesting reinterpretations of nine familiar pop tunes (plus three McBride originals) that he frames within ‘straight ahead’ jazz arrangements and delivers in classic jazz quartet format. It is his eighth recording for Heads Up International and his first since Texas Hold Em in 2005 which at the time I described as being the classic Joe McBride blend of contemporary jazz and R&B. He is an artist who for the past twenty five years has helped shape a genre and he brings all this experience and more to the delightful Lookin’ For A Change.

McBride was born 1963 in Fulton, Missouri and began playing piano at the age of four. He started singing in high school but, as a teenager, he contracted a degenerative eye disease that eventually caused him to loose his sight. Despite this his passion for music was never impaired and he continued his studies at the Missouri School for the Blind, the University of North Texas and at Webster University in suburban St. Louis where he majored in jazz performance.

Around 1983 McBride made the journey to San Diego, CA where the adult contemporary scene was already strong. He played there with the group Fattburger and guitarist Steve Laury. In 1985 visited his brother in Dallas for what he expected to be a two-week stay. However, faced with the numerous performing opportunities that he found there, he chose to make the city his base and quickly became a regular performer on the local jazz club scene. Also during this period he met a young trumpeter named Dave Love. The two became friends and when Love founded the Heads Up International label he quickly signed McBride to a record deal. In 1992, via the Heads Up connection, McBride featured on Kenny Blake’s debut album Interior Design and began touring with the Head Up Superband, a line up that included Blake, Gerald Veasley and Henry Johnson. He also opened for major stars of the smooth jazz and soul genres including Whitney Houston, Larry Carlton and the Yellowjackets but in that same year stepped out as a leader with his first CD Grace.

The street smarts that emanate from such a musical upbringing are, with Looking For A Change, there for all to see and this is particularly so with his tender rendition of Coldplay's classic tune ‘The Scientist’. Entirely different but just as good is his understated take on the Cameo hit ‘Word Up’ while McBride’s soft singing tones and melodic keys find a perfect fit with Seal’s ‘Kiss From A Rose’.

McBride’s delicate version of the John Mayer song ‘Say’ is a joy and the Latin groove he injects into the Corrine Bailey Rae tune ‘Like A Star’ makes it sound brand new. Elsewhere the Gnarls Barkley breakthrough hit ‘Crazy’, with its jazzy swagger and McBride’s cool vocal, is as pleasing as it is surprising whilst he again comes up big for the pop – blues – jazz amalgam of Rob Thomas’s ‘This Is How A Heart Breaks’.

Much covered and an inspired choice is the sultry Gavin DeGraw composition ‘Don’t Wanna Be’. It’s a fine example of how McBride has mastered the art of fusing musical styles and this is also the case with ‘1000 Miles’. A real Secret Garden favourite, this reworking of Vanessa Carlton’s 2002 blockbuster shimmers with McBride’s sensational playing, immaculate bass from Roger Hines and is in every respect a wonderful piece of work.

The quartet is completed by drummer Elijah Gilmore and Dan Wilson on guitar. The foursome are arguably at their very best for the album’s three original compositions where they merge subtle hints of R & B with hugely accessible straight ahead influences. The vibe they generate with the feisty title track is a case in point and although ‘Secret Rendezvous’ is more restrained, the relaxed interplay between these fine musicians is notable. Of McBride’s own material perhaps the easy paced yet heartfelt ‘It’s Over Now’ best encapsulates what he is all about. His skill in injecting soul into most everything that he does never wavers and with Lookin’ For A Change he is beckoning listeners from different generations and in so doing bridging musical divides.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at September 26, 2009 4:48 PM