Poker and jazz are both very much about using the unknown to your advantage. You’re dealt a certain hand and after that it’s up to you to improvise. Joe McBride is definitely on a roll with Texas Hold ’Em (HUCD 3103). After seven Heads Up releases, the versatile pianist/singer raises the stakes and comes into his own as a composer and performer. Backed again by the Texas Rhythm Club, McBride’s winning streak continues with an album full of bluesy pop hooks and contemporary jazz licks.
"Poker transcends age," McBride says. "It’s such a popular card game, and poker is hot because it’s for everyone."
No longer the sole preserve of old men in cheap hotel rooms, poker today is a game of the young, most of whom play online poker. Players can become instant celebrities because of TV exposure at the World Series of Poker and on the World Poker Tour.
And like the best poker games, the more skilled players you have on hand, the more interesting it gets. McBride’s band, the Texas Rhythm Club, features some of the Lone Star State’s most talented jazz musicians: Wayne DeLano on saxophones; Dave Von Blohn on flugelhorn and trumpet; Larry Spencer on muted trumpet; Todd Parsnow on guitar; longtime producer Martin Walters on electric bass and guitar; John Adams on upright bass; and Dennis Durick on drums.
"This band is killin’," says McBride. "I’ve played with these guys for over a decade."
Like a good card game, the eleven tracks (mostly original) on Texas Hold ’Em assume a rhythm of their own, and the poker-oriented titles are as much fun as the tunes they belong to: "Big Slick," "Double Down" "Texas Hold ’Em," "In & Out," "No Limit," "All In," and "One Eyed Jack."
A formidable singer, McBride shows his cards on "Giving It All to You" and "I’m Here for You," flirting between sweet romance and soulful jazz.
Another highlight is McBride’s take on the classic ’60s hard rock hit "In a Garden of Eden" ("In-a-gadda-da-vida"). Significantly shorter and less doom-laden than Iron Butterfly’s original 17-minute magnum opus, you’ll recognize its hypnotic signature bass line.
"Rock and roll from that era can be made to fit into almost any kind of genre," says McBride.
"In the end, it comes down to that one moment when you have to show everybody what you’ve got," McBride adds. "If you’ve played your hand well up to that point, there’s a good chance that the payoff will be big — for you, for the audience, for the band, for everybody."
Not even blindness could stop Joe McBride. Born in 1963 in Fulton, Missouri, he began playing piano at age four and started singing in high school. As a teenager, McBride contracted a degenerative eye disease and eventually went blind, but his passion for music was never impaired. He continued his studies at the Missouri School for the Blind, Webster University in suburban St. Louis, and the famed North Texas State in Denton.
When McBride finally stepped out as a leader in 1992 with Grace, his first album for Heads Up, he quickly became a favorite in the contemporary jazz genre. His next recordings – A Gift for Tomorrow (1994), Keys to Your Heart (1996) and Double Take (1998) – featured some of the giants of jazz, including Grover Washington Jr., Philip Bailey, Phil Perry, Peter White, Dave Koz, Rick Braun, Larry Carlton and others. His 2000 release, Texas Rhythm Club, included his touring band and was a loving tribute to the Lone Star State’s underappreciated jazz scene. Among McBride’s many credits that year was a major supporting role in The Riff, a feature film starring Nia Peeples and Antonio Fargas about the New Orleans jazz scene (directed by Mark Allen and produced by Bernie Pollack).
In 2002, McBride released Keepin’ It Real. A showcase for the Texas Rhythm Club, the album featured two terrific versions of The Sopranos theme, "Woke Up This Morning." Yet another example of how McBride has kept his finger on the pulse of American pop culture.
Whether you’re on the World Poker Tour or just playing for quarters on the occasional Saturday night, if you enjoy poker, you’ll love Texas Hold ’Em. But you don’t have to be a card shark to appreciate this album. McBride’s best overall recording to date has a fresh feel from beginning to end, making this is an absolute must CD for any contemporary jazz aficionado.