Blue notes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 January, 2012, 12:00am

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A Happy New Year to all and a reminder that good music can take your mind off that hangover.

Which is why I'm sorry to start 2012 with disappointing news, but those who have invested in Hong Kong Arts Festival tickets to hear Charlie Haden's Quartet West should now apply for refunds. The bassist, who was to appear on February 3 and 4 at City Hall, has cancelled for 'health reasons', and details of how refunds can be obtained are posted at http://www.hk.artsfestival.org/en/prog/9.

Jazz and blues lovers can console themselves with other festival acts: Dr John and the Lower 911 performing Mac Rebennack's inimitable take on the diverse but intertwined musical traditions of New Orleans, and classical violinist turned jazzman Nigel Kennedy who will be performing his arrangements of the music of Fats Waller.

It is a shame, though, that after the Arts Festival's sterling efforts to ensure this year's programme has a strong jazz component, such a major plank has fallen through.

Health issues aside Haden had a good year in 2011, winning a US National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for 2012, and participating in various recording projects including an album with Keith Jarrett, and a live album with Lee Konitz, Brad Mehldau, and Paul Motian, who died in November.

Another jazz great no longer with us is pianist Hank Jones, who died in May 2010, shortly after completing sessions for an album with Haden which will finally be released this week by Emarcy, under the title Come Sunday.

A 1995 collaboration by the duo, Steal Away, scored a Grammy nomination, and Jones' mastery of his instrument remained intact until his death.

Not long before he died, Jones also recorded a track with another great jazz bassist: Christian McBride, who's half a century his junior. Alone Together has just come out on the latter's latest album for Mack Avenue Records, Conversations with Christian.

McBride fulfilled his Arts Festival commitments in 2009, performing here with Chick Corea and John McLaughlin's Five Peace Band. He is prominent among the 'first-call' acoustic double bassists in several genres in addition to his first calling, jazz and is as adept on bass guitar.

McBride's remarkable range is attested to by the diversity of the collaborators he has been able to enlist for this album of duets, many of them past associates or employers, including Jones, Corea, Roy Hargrove and Sting.

Other artists featured here include violinist Regina Carter, pianists Eddie Palmieri, Dr Billy Taylor and George Duke, singers Angelique Kidjo and Dee Dee Bridgewater, guitarist Russell Malone, and saxophonist Ron Blake.

The album comprises an interestingly varied collection of tunes which reflect McBride's remarkable virtuosity as a soloist, and sympathetic good taste as an accompanist.

The most successful tracks are the instrumental duets rather than the vocal features, particularly a take on a Bach theme with Carter whimsically entitled Fat Bach and Greens, Alone Together with Jones, and a tango improvisation with Corea called, simply, Tango Improvisation No 1.

The album concludes with an oddity called Chitlins and Gefilte Fish, with McBride playing blues and exchanging ad-libbed lines of dialogue with actress Gina Gershon, who plays Jew's harp.

Conversations With Christian is well worth hearing, as is McBride's other main release as a leader from 2011, the Grammy-nominated The Good Feeling by the less minimalist Christian McBride Big Band.

Take Three

Three noteworthy albums featuring the bass playing of Christian McBride.

Tenor Legacy (1993, Blue Note): Joe Lovano and Joshua Redman provide the duelling tenor saxophones while McBride lays down the groove with drummer Lewis Nash, percussionist Don Alias and pianist Mulgrew Miller.

Gettin' to It (1995, Verve): McBride's debut as a leader featuring stellar sidemen Roy Hargrove and Joshua Redman. A bass trio featuring jazz elder statesmen Ray Brown and Milt Hinton on Neal Hefti's Splanky is the stand-out track.

Daytrip (2005, Nonesuch): A trio album - led by guitarist Pat Metheny and featuring McBride and drummer Antonio Sanchez - that captures all three players at the top of their form. The entire album was exhaustively rehearsed on the road, and recorded in a day.