Joe McBride is a restless soul -- a contemporary jazz pianist-keyboardist and a seductive R &B/pop singer who refuses to confine himself to any particular style of music, keeping his listeners guessing on his third album for Heads Up International, Keys to Your Heart (HUCD 3035). A milestone for both McBride and Heads Up, Keys to Your Heart is the first venture into multi-media. Along with over 50 minutes of music, "Keys" is also an Enhanced CD, featuring over 30 minutes of videos, artist profiles and much more (it is both PC & MAC compatible).
With special guests ranging from veteran Earth, Wind and Fire member Philip Bailey to contempo-jazz favorites Grover Washington, Jr. (soprano sax) and Larry Carlton (electric guitar), Keys to Your Heart is -- like its predecessors, 1992’s Grace (OXCO/MC 3017) and 1994’s A Gift For Tomorrow (HUCD/MC3025) -- as unpredictable as it is cohesive. "I think this record shows growth more than anything and says more about why I’m here, which is to spread love and joy," asserts the 32-year-old McBride, a St. Louis native who’s lived in Dallas since 1985. "Like before, I was able to incorporate all of my influences -- including jazz, bebop, R &B, funk, gospel and hip-hop -- but this time the hip-hop influence is greater. I’ve followed hip-hop from the beginning when the Sugarhill Gang was happening and I definitely respect rap as an art form. But instead of incorporating rap vocals, I’m incorporating the musical elements of hip-hop."
As a jazz-R&B instrumentalist, McBride offers an earthy, down-home yet sophisticated sound influenced by Joe Sample, Herbie Hancock and Ronnie Foster as well as the earlier acoustic breakthroughs of Oscar Peterson and Bud Powell. Meanwhile, the R&B/pop crooner of "Let’s Spend Some Time Together," "I Can Never Get Enough" and "It’s Got To be Love" (an uplifting, EWF-influenced duet with Bailey) boasts a resonant, passionate yet lucid style.
"I was a piano player before I was singer, but I always wanted to sing," McBride recalls. "I started playing piano at four. As a kid, I wanted to sing, but was shy. It was during high school that people realized I could sing and urged me to express myself as a vocalist."
Except for personal interpretations of Freddie Jackson’s "You Are My Lady" and the Stylistics’ soul classic "People Make the World Go Round," Keys to Your Heart underscores McBride’s versatility as a composer. From the funky but smooth grooves of "Highland Park" and "Chit-Chat" to the reflective "After Sunset" (a duet with Washington) to the haunting "Miracles," McBride provides an array of surprises without letting us forget the impact that gospel and the African-American church have had on his music.
"I think the hip-hop influence is especially strong on ‘People Make the World Go Round,’" McBride explains. "It’s a very meaningful song. When the Stylistics and Michael Jackson recorded it in the early ‘70s, there was a lot going on with the Vietnam War and the energy crisis. Yet, its’ message holds true today -- people still need to work together to make the world a better place."
On no less than five of Keys to Your Heart’s instrumentals, McBride is unaccompanied -- presenting an unusual ‘90s version of the solo jazz pianist, a time-honored tradition dating back to James P. Johnson, Fats Waller and other stride pianists first recorded in the 1920s. "A major difference between what I’m doing by myself and what Art Tatum did, of course, is that I have so much technology at my disposal," he notes. "I enjoy the old and the new and one of my goals has been combining them."
But while McBride has openly embraced the electronic realm, he presents a very warm and human effort in Keys to Your Heart -- one demonstrating the ability of the improviser to use technology in an expressive, soulful fashion.
"This record is not just for my enjoyment and satisfaction -- I’m doing it to make other people’s lives happier," McBride stresses. "If Keys to Your Heart brings people happiness, I’m doing my job."