At the start of Christian McBride’s new CD, "Vertical Vision," there is a very short introduction called ‘Circa 1990’ that reveals what the rest of the pieces aren’t supposed to be. This prelude sounds like something circa 1929 and a voice, presumably McBride’s, sneers ‘Put the other album on." And the music lunges forward to something circa 1970s.
It is worth to recall what Miles Davis started at the tail-end of the 1960s. Influenced by the popular Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix, Davis created the revolutionary "Bitches Brew" with its thick churning funk rhythm that later spawned a movement with seminal albums by Weather Report, Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra and a few others at best and a lot of jazz-rock fusion devolving into a lowest common denominator of commercial syrup at worst. In reaction to this once promising fusion, new traditionalist Wynton Marsalis re-energized a sound in the 1980s that relied on more formal jazz roots sensibility and discarded the then dead-end alliance between jazz and rock. Now, in this on-going dialectic, McBride and recent projects by Joshua Redman, Roy Hargrove and Nicholas Payton seem to be reacting against the sometime thought of museum-piece jazz orthodoxy. This may be an attempt to form a kind of post-fusion groove/hip-hop jazz that sells well.
In their press release, Warner Brothers recites: "The great thing about the current scene is that time has removed enough fusion-prejudice to allow it’s (sic) diverse heritage to seep into this generation’s music without category." It’s true that time has passed which has enabled musicians and the listening public to revisit former territory. And it is worth the effort to try to revitalize jazz with a new (or old) pulse. With those initial sixteen seconds of the album, McBride is stating that he is trying to discard, at least, the present jazz movement and strike out on a different path.
"Vertical Vision" probably neither represents a revolution nor a counterrevolution. It doesn’t fully push into new terrain because one foot is deeply embedded in ‘70’s fusion. The music does however push perilously close to riffs (particularly on ‘Technicolor Nightmare’ and ‘Tahitian Pulse’) that one has distinctly heard before albeit thirty years ago. But it’s still not close enough to call it a counterrevolution.
Duke Ellington was right when he described music as being merely good or bad. "Vertical Vision" is neither. There are sections that are beautiful and skillfully played (like on ‘Lejos De Usted’) but are crowded in by long gulps of banality. It’s just hard to work up a sweat either way.
For some, "Vertical Vision" may be a way to reach back to the gems of the 1970s. Others might perceive that this is the vision of a path to be followed, but it feels illusory to me.