If online promotions and televised tournaments are any indication, hold ’em poker has become one of the most popular games in the Western world. Attempting to capitalize on the game’s growth, keyboardist Joe McBride brings us Texas Hold’em, a collection of eleven original songs, mostly with titles that represent some aspect of the card game. The music is playful throughout, moving from rhythmic smooth jazz to the light funk of “In a Garden of Eden (In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida),” a song that’s loosely patterned after the Iron Butterfly hit.
McBride was born in 1963 in Fulton, Missouri. A degenerative eye disease blinded him but didn’t quench his thirst for music. His debut album as a band leader was 1992’s Grace. He has recorded with such artists as Grover Washington Jr., Philip Bailey, Dave Koz, Rick Braun, and Larry Carlton. Now backed by his touring band, the Texas Rhythm Club, McBride fuses Chicago-influenced jazz with New Orleans zydeco, Southern blues, and gospel. On the new album, he’s supported by the Texas Rhythm Club.
Texas Hold’em antes up with “Big Slick,” a song that epitomizes the lighthearted, playful nature of the album. Martin Walters’ bass line is effective but not overpowering. Wayne DeLano adds a silky saxophone lead. “In a Garden of Eden,” the only track not composed by McBride, is a laid-back Sunday drive groove that borrows its main line from “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida.” Highlighted by Walters' guitar and McBride’s happy-as-can-be piano, this track pays homage to the original but steers it in an entirely different direction. McBride raises the stakes a bit on the title song. While the tune itself is more tranquil than most of the other tracks, the pianist shows a winning hand, particularly in the closing minute. A little funk is injected into the mix on “No Limits.” Walters’ bass and Dennis Durick’s drums set the pace while McBride takes point.
In some ways “Texas Hold’Em” is textbook smooth jazz. All tracks but “In a Garden of Eden,” which clocks in at 3:42, fit neatly into the four-and-a-half to five-minute model—with a seven to fourteen-second up or down variance—that, based on typical playlists, is preferred by smooth jazz radio. Even so, McBride and company keep it from being boring or giving a sense of “This sounds like so and so.” The stakes may not be very high, in the sense that McBride doesn’t break format. However, whether taken as a whole or a sum of its parts, Texas Hold’em is a winning hand from start to finish.
By Woodrow Wilkins Jr. - allaboutjazz.com
Technorati tag: Jazz