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Hear Christian McBride and Inside Straight pay homage to Maya Angelou on a track from 'Live at the Village Vanguard'

Christian McBride and Inside Straight
David Salafia
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"The name of this song gives you a musical portrait of someone that is just so dignified and classy, and has such power and wisdom in her words — the great Maya Angelou."

So opines Christian McBride — Grammy-winning bassist, composer, bandleader and producer, as well as a broadcaster extraordinaire — in his intro to a Steve Wilson composition titled "Ms. Angelou." The banter and ensuing performance come from Live at the Village Vanguard, a new release by McBride and Inside Straight, due out on Mack Avenue this Friday. WBGO is proud to present the song in an exclusive premiere.

McBride formed Inside Straight in the mid-2000s, breaking it in with a week at the Vanguard. Reviewing the band there a decade ago, I mused that its self-conscious name suggests both "a badge of intent and maybe a deflective maneuver: He’ll brand this music as conventional before you ever have the chance."

But it's important not to confuse "conventional" for "conservative" in any discussion of McBride's working quintet, or his larger project. With Wilson on saxophones, Warren Wolf on vibraphone, Peter Martin on piano and Carl Allen on drums, Inside Straight is a group with the firmest of roots but also a healthy tangle of branches. Like their leader, these musicians know how to invoke the jazz tradition without sounding hemmed in.

Maya Angelou
AP
Angelou became Hollywood's first black female movie director on Nov. 3, 1971. She also wrote the script and music for 'Caged Bird,' which was based on her best-selling 1969 autobiography.

"Ms. Angelou," which previously appeared on the studio album People Music, is a case in point — deeply consonant, rhythmically reassuring, but not as straightforward as it seems. "Steve did a very good job of capturing the feeling and soul of Maya Angelou's words," McBride says in a press statement. "And it's such a wonderfully unusual song. Just when you think you know where the chords or the melody are going, they don't go there. It's actually a microcosm of Steve's improvising concept, because he's always playing these incredibly different ideas. I think that's why people love Steve Wilson so much — he's very new school and very old school at the same time."

That description, of course, easily applies to Inside Straight as a whole. Since 2009, the band has demonstrated these principles during an annual booking at the Vanguard — with the exception of last year, when the club remained dark (save for some reassuring livestreams) due to COVID restrictions. Next week, Inside Straight returns to form, playing a Vanguard engagement that doubles as an album-release gig.

It seems more than likely that the run will include a few performances of "Ms. Angelou," which Wilson wrote in reverential tribute to the late poet, essayist and activist. "I always admired Maya Angelou's grace, style, wisdom, and imagination throughout her amazing life journey," Wilson he says in a statement. "This is not meant to be a musical portrait, but she has been a big inspiration of mine and it's certainly meant to be a musical tribute to her: a woman who is certainly beyond category.”

Live at the Village Vanguard releases on Mack Avenue on Friday; preorder here.