Bassist Christian McBride has impressed just about everyone in jazz with his sonorous tone, blazing facility, and spectacular ear. Though he’s only 28, he’s already appeared on more than a hundred recordings, including albums by Betty Carter, Pat Metheny, and Joshua Redman, and fellow bassists in particular laud his note choices, which are consistently insightful, whether he’s accompanying the most tender or the most complicated of solos. In the 80s and 90s, many jazz musicians of McBride’s generation modeled themselves after stars from the 50s and 60s, and while Wallace Roney took after Miles Davis and Courtney Pine emulated John Coltrane, McBride established himself as the new Ray Brown, effortlessly evoking his elder’s suave swing and perfect intonation. But any bassist talented enough to play like Brown is unlikely to settle for mere imitation, no matter how exalted his model, and McBride has explored other styles, including funk and R & B. He’s infused those idioms with rare virtuosity, but he never really brought them to life until this year’s Sci-fi (Verve), which takes as its inspiration the mysterious, percolating, ostinato-driven jams of Herbie Hancock’s early-70s sextet–in fact, one of McBride’s compositions borrows the name of Hancock’s 1971 album Mwandishi, the best document of that band. Hancock himself appears on a couple tracks, as does bass clarinetist James Carter, and on those tunes the Sci-fi group comes closest to the sound of the Mwandishi band. But McBride, pianist Shedrick Mitchell, drummer Rodney Green, and saxist Ron Blake (the album’s primary quartet) do better when they take a less reverent approach to their source material, playing instead what McBride calls “acoustic fusion.” Sci-fi melds mainstream language with urgent rhythms and malleable structures, and defines McBride as a promising leader as well as a prodigious musician. Chicago expat Blake will join McBride for these quartet dates. Tuesday through Thursday, October 17 through 19, 8 and 10 PM, Friday and Saturday, October 20 and 21, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, October 22, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand, Chicago; 312-670-2473.

–Neil Tesser

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Silvia Otte.