Bassist Christian McBride photo credit Ralph A. Miriello
In the heart of downtown New Rochelle, NY sits a relatively new restaurant space that has been slowly making a name for itself; Alvin & Friends is the brainchild of restaurateurs, Alvin and Gwen Clayton. The restaurant is home to what could easily be some of the best southern, soul and Caribbean inspired cuisine in Westchester County. Chef Denzil Roberts executes a delicious and varied menu that is sure to please almost anyone with a taste for southern comfort food, jerk specialties, BBQ ribs or creamy shrimp and grits and collard greens, just to name a few choice entrees. The décor is bright, cheery and decorated with the colorful Matisse inspired paintings of Mr. Clayton, a one-time model.
Proprietor Alvin Clayton of Alvin & Friends
The added kicker, for jazz fans, is that Alvin & Friends is fast becoming a premier venue for quality jazz on Friday nights. At the rear of the restaurant is the Roscoe Room, an intimate but spacious open space that seats about fifty at linen draped tables or at the small bar in the rear. The room was dedicated to the late actor Roscoe Lee Browne, a personal friend of Mr. & Mrs. Clayton. On this past Friday night, June 20th, G J Productions, the husband and wife production team of Greg and Jewel Thomas presented the incomparable Christian McBride Trio in the Roscoe room.
Mr. McBride was apparently a little under the weather with strep throat, as he explained in one his brief talks to the audience, but that certainly didn't affect his level of energy. The buoyant Mr. McBride is 42 years old now, and he was joined by 31-year-old Ulysses S. Owens Jr. on drums and 25-year-old wunderkind Christian Sands on piano. At a collective age of less than a century, their musical maturity far exceeds their chronological age. The trio were impeccably dressed, each wearing dapper suits and crisp shirts with only Mr. Owens sans tie. McBride had a Cheshire cat smile as he picked up his burnished bass and proceeded to start the first set with a rousing staccato version of Juan Tizol's "Caravan" -- a proud master showing off his amazing musical prodigy. The trio is a powerhouse of precision and technical virtuosity.
Drummer Ulysses S. Owens Jr.
photo credit by Ralph A. Miriello c 2014
Mr. Owens played a sparse trap set with only a snare, a ride cymbal, a single bass drum and a high-hat and yet created a myriad of sounds. He judiciously tightened and loosened his snare skin with his elbow, creating various timbres along the way. He used his rim and sticks for percussive effect and his brush work on "East of the Sun and West of the Moon" was equally impressive. Owens has a seemingly unlimited wellspring of inventive rhythmic patterns in his repertoire making him an integral part of this well-balanced trio. McBride can be deeply bluesy, gustily funky, astonishingly fast or just plain hard swinging and he demonstrated all these sides of his playing this evening.
On "Tom" Jobim's "Triste" the music swayed quite apropos as the band played in the shadow of Mr. Clayton's colorful paintings of native dancers on the wall. Christian Sands showed a remarkable ability to hammer notes with uncanny precision and unerring consistency. Sitting within five feet of the pianist, his hands at times moved so fast that they seemed to blur to the naked eye.
Pianist Christian Sands
photo credit Ralph A. Miriello c 2014
McBride played a sensitive arco introduction to the Tony Bennett classic "Who Can I Turn To When Nobody Needs Me." Sands thrilled the audience with his creative use of block chords and two-handed arpeggio runs and some sensitive 'comping. The young Sands is an amazing technician with plenty of ideas that are often steeped in the blues, complex burn down the house lines more in the lineage of Art Tatum then Bill Evans. The audience was rightfully mesmerized.
The group played a Monk tune that truly demonstrated the honed precision of their working dynamic; master musicians with intuitive interplay that only comes from working together over a sustained period. The three men were genuinely having fun, testing the limits of each other's musical mettle in ways that challenged their own individual creativity, and thoroughly enjoying themselves in the process.
After a standing ovation, the group returned with an encore playing the 1935 Roger's and Hart "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" at a speed that would most likely have astonished the famous songwriting duo had they been around to hear it.
It was a night of musical magic, exactly what makes "live" music deliciously unpredictable and such an unsurpassed treat. Welcoming hospitality, good food and shows like this is sure to make Alvin & Friends a premiere destination for Westchester and Lower Fairfield County patrons who are looking for a first class dining and musical experience. This week, catch the venerable saxophonist George Coleman Friday for two sets at Alvin & Friends.