February 27, 2024

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CD review: Christian McBride’s New Jawn – Prime – 2023: Video, CD cover

Christian McBride’s New Jawn — trumpeter Josh Evans (Jackie McLean, Cedar Walton, Rasheid Ali), saxophonist and bass clarinetist Marcus Strickland (Roy Haynes, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Chris Dave, Bilal, Robert Glasper), and drummer Nasheet Waits (Jason Moran, Joe Lovano, John Medeski) — is back with their highly anticipated sophomore album, Prime, the follow-up from McBride’s GRAMMY® nominated group.

Featuring original compositions from each band member as well as fresh takes on songs from Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman and Larry Young, this group offers an exhilarating space of exploration for the 8-time GRAMMY® Award-winning McBride to stretch his veteran wings.

Preeminent contemporary jazz artist, ambassador, and impresario Christian McBride has built his stellar reputation in part by not being easily pigeonholed. Yet, when McBride unveiled his then-new band, New Jawn, on record for the first time in 2018, he surprised folks because the music was not filled with the swing and deep groves he had become known for. Don’t put anything past McBride. Apart from his various artistic director, educator, and media roles, McBride leads several bands – his quintet Inside Straight, his trio, his 18-piece big band, and the experimental Christian McBride Situation. The 8-time Grammy winner is always seeking a new challenge, and some go well beyond the mainstream.  So, the seven-year-old New Jawn is a group with one rule: no chords.

For the unfamiliar, the name derives from the black Philadelphian slang term jawn meaning “thing,” as in “do your thing.” Some may rather apply it as an alternative term for avant-garde, as in the ‘60s when the music of John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, and Pharoah Sanders was labeled “the new thing.”  The band comprises bassist McBride, trumpeter Josh Evans, saxophonist and bass clarinetist Marcus Strickland, and drummer Nasheet Waits. All tunes are composed by band members except for Larry Young’s “Obsequious,” Ornette Coleman’s “The Good Life,” and Sonny Rollins’ “East Broadway Rundown.” For some, this is a side of McBride’s artistry that may take some getting used to. Listen carefully though, and you’ll find those same familiar hard-driving qualities in his bass playing alone together with his bandleader skills where it’s clear that he’s in charge even though he rarely dominates; instead allowing his bandmates all the freedom of expression they need.

McBride’s ‘Head Bedlam” opens and closes cacophonously with its mid-section settling into a funky toe-tapping groove, driven by the leader’s bass line and Waits’ insistent beats. Evans chirps in with both jabs and skitters while Strickland struts along on the bass clarinet. Strickland’s title track which carries both hard bop, Blakey-like elements, and adventurous free blowing. The composer is on tenor this time, for a tune with a linear structure around which both Strickland and Evans improvise which McBride and Waits are locked in underneath, helming the rhythmic ebb and flow. McBride and Waits each step out with convincing solos that show they understand where Strickland was headed with the tune, originally inspired by a battle in one of the Transformers movies and originally recorded on Strickland’s 2011 Triumph of the Heavy, Vol. 2.

Waits contributes to the moody “Moonchild,” a reflection of his childhood growing up in Greenwich Village. Here Strickland returns to bass clarinet, delivering intriguing bottom-end sounds in conjunction with McBride who shifts between arco and pizzicato. The unit is typically thought of as fiery as evidenced by the first two tracks and Coleman’s “The Good Life,” where Evans is especially blistering. “Moonchild” is the opposite, a nice example of explorative restraint as is McBride’s second composition, “Lurkers,” featuring more stunning arco work and dark tones from Strickland’s bass clarinet. The pairing of Evans’ trumpet and Strickland’s bass clarinet will conjure thoughts of other chordless ensemble pairings such as Ornette and Don Cherry or more directly, Eric Dolphy and Booker Little. In the spirit of the latter, Evans composed “Dolphy Dust,” where interestingly, Strickland is on tenor, an instrument Dolphy rarely if ever played, rather than the bass clarinet. Evans and Strickland trade vibrant rapid runs but McBride’s pulsating bass and Waits’ inventive kit work are perhaps even more compelling. In a further nod to history and tradition, they render Larry Young’s “Obsequious” and McBride’s former bandleader Sonny Rollins’ “East Broadway Rundown” with aplomb, confidence, and adventurism.

A chordless combo is certainly not a new concept. Any jazz lover could rattle off a dozen or two without hardly giving it a second thought. Yet, New Jawn forges its own path. Surely, they quote some references along the way, but each track bears their fresh energy and a willingness to roam freely.

Christian McBride’s much anticipated latest release, Christian McBride’s New Jawn: Prime, has definitely been worth the wait. It stands as the second of a series that follows up his similarly named—minus the “Prime”—2018.

This extraordinary and highly-respected bassist and composer who has long been ahead of his time with his forward-thinking inspiration has again brought together the cream of the crop musicians who were heard on his previous release. They include saxophonist Marcus Strickland, trumpeter Josh Evan, and drummer Nasheet Wais.

The brilliant musicians in this piano-less quartet hold equal weight throughout with each given plenty of time to stretch out on their own, team individually with their bandmates, and come together as an ensemble.

On first listening to the appropriately named opening cut, “Head Bedlam,” the reaction might be, “Wow, really?” It’s out there to be sure, though it then calms down with the heartbeat of McBride‘s bass—prominent throughout—and then with the entrance of Strickland and later Evan, plus the backbeat provided by Wais. “Prime,” the second selection, remains more light-hearted and melodic and swings with a hard bop state of mind.

The variations in moods, tempos and a plethora of influential sources are staggering. Those elements can be realized on the ultra-fast paced “Obsequious” with trumpet flutters as fast as the wings of a hummingbird pushed forth by the lift of the ever-tonally magnificent drums of Wais. As always, everyone gets in on this adventure.

Happiness prevails on the Latin-tinged “The Good Life” as each artist takes a turn to add their voice to the celebration. This dynamic approach—all for one, one for all—could be considered to be the group’s signature.

1 Head Bedlam
2 Prime
3 Moonchild
4 Obsequious
5 The Lurkers
6 The Good Life
7 Dolphy Dust
8 East Broadway Rundown

Christian McBride: bass (all tracks)
Josh Evans: trumpet (all tracks)
Marcus Strickland: tenor sax (2, 4, 6-8); bass clarinet (1, 3, 5)
Nasheet Waits: drums (all tracks)

Christian McBride's New Jawn - Prime

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