People Music, the title of bassist Christian McBride and Inside Straight’s follow up to their debut album Kind of Brown, refers to what McBride calls his “personal mantra as a musician.” Now is a time when some jazz musicians have become so concerned with pushing the envelope that they have pushed beyond the post office’s ability to deliver the mail to anyone but other jazz musicians, and sometimes not even them. Their music has become what one 19th century poet called “the dialogue of the mind with itself.” “People music” is music that speaks to the people. A degree in music theory is not a requirement for its enjoyment. All that’s needed are ears.
What you get on this album is mainstream, hard-driving jazz played with passion and consummate musicianship. It doesn’t reject the past. It uses it. In the best traditions of the form, it builds on what has gone before. It is accessible music. If what you want is esoteric cacophony, you don’t want People Music. If you want beautiful innovative jazz, you’re in the right place.
The eight pieces on the album are all original compositions by members of the quintet. Four are by McBride. The album opens with his “Listen to the Heroes Cry,” written, he tells us, in reaction to a music awards show which he found more concerned with image than with music. “It made me wonder what Duke Ellington or John Coltrane or Billie Holiday or Sarah Vaughn would think if they could see this. I think they would be crying.” “New Hope’s Angel” was written in reaction to the death of Whitney Houston and “Fair Hope Theme” is an extension of the main theme McBride wrote for the soundtrack of the documentary The Contradiction of Fair Hope. His dramatically driven “The Movement Revisited,” drawn from a larger Civil Rights themed suite, is the longest piece on the set.
“Gang Gang,” written by vibes player Warren Wolf, is an Afro-Cuban track. Saxophonist Steve Wilson’s haunting “Ms. Angelou” features the composer playing the soprano sax. Christian Sands, who plays piano on two tracks, composed “Dream Train” and pianist Peter Martin wrote the funky “Unusual Suspects.” Carl Allen plays drums on everything but “Dream Train” and “Listen to the Heroes Cry,” where drums are handled by Ulysses Owens, Jr.
If what McBride was aiming at was audience-friendly music, he got it, but perhaps more importantly he also got audience pleasing music. This is the kind of music you want to listen to, and you’ll want to listen to it again and again.