What makes pianist-composer-vocalist Joe McBride a cut above many of his pop-jazz contemporaries is not that he solos faster, plays harder runs, or belts out tunes like the last soul stirrer on earth, but his insistence on never overriding the grooves of the music. On the 11 tunes (nine self-penned) of his wide-ranging debut album Grace, this Dallas-based pianist's improvisations are always inspired, and his soulful singing is consistently elegant and heartfelt.
"Señor Amor" is McBride's Latin-lilted tune, with infectious congas and the Spanish-style acoustic guitar work of Tim Kobza. He quickly moves into another mood on "Twilight," an easy-going midtempo tune where special guest Kirk Whalum wails a sparkling tenor solo. Next up are two effortlessly executed raspy covers of beloved 70's soul gems - "Sunny" and Donny Hathaway's "For AII We Know." Here McBride showcases his gospel-inflected, passionate, song stylings. The Al Jarreau-style shuffle "Everlasting Love" is also a perfect vehicle for McBride's soulful but jazz-tinged vocal melisma. "Central Expressway" highlights McBride's rich chordal structures and piquant cadenzas.
Grace then delves a bit more deeply into McBride's jazz roots, with the Texas tenor tribute "Clay & Ivory," where he shares the solo spotlight with two legendary Dallas tenor saxophonists, James Clay and Marchel Ivery. The eloquent ballad "Grace" then slows the pace down a bit and highlights McBride's expressive soloing skills. "Get On The Right Track," obviously inspired by Bobby McFerrin and Take 6, finds McBride in an acapella bliss scatting gleefully against his own wall of background harmonies and trading fours with Stanley Turrentine in his crystal-clear falsetto. The R&B midtempo "Need Somebody To Love" is yet another vehicle for McBride's soulful vocal skills. The gutbucket-bluesy "Chump Change" closes the recording.
"Grace is an auspicious debut for McBride ... [H]e can scat like Jarreau, riff like Stevie, work an organ like Jimmy Smith, jam on Latin-grooves as hard as Hilton Ruiz and play ballads expressively like Bill Evans. McBride is both a diverse and complete musician who should be around for a long time..."
Gordon Chambers, Music Critic