Christian McBride’s New Jawn: Prime

The bass player's quartet gets heavy this time, playing angry free passages among swing-driven items that sometimes hint at melody

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I am a huge fan of McBride, but I do find the music he produces with New Jawn challenging at times. This is McBride in uncompromising mood – no melody, no chords, no harmony – just sounds that will push the listener as far as they may want to go (and possibly further). But why not? Attacking frontiers, breaking down barriers and creating new musical space is often cited as a function of jazz. As Georges Braque once famously said, “Art is meant to disturb, science reassures”.

The album starts with a full-on attack via the appropriately named Head Bedlam. It opens with a wall of sound that can best be described as anarchic. For over a minute the listener is subjected to – well, head bedlam. But as with the human soul, it is only possible to stay this angry for so long before it becomes self-destructive; eventually the bedlam subsides and is replaced by a more recognisable jazz vibe where a layer of solid drumbeats is overlaid with some fine trumpet and bass clarinet solos. But the respite is short lived, and the last minute sees a return to a wild blowing session that is clearly designed to shock.

The title track is an altogether more swing-driven affair. Strickland’s tenor sax is reminiscent of Coltrane at times and Josh Evans weaves his trumpet in and out to good effect; McBride and Waits providing the constant, driving rhythm. Moonchild is a slower, more sombre and subtle affair, with McBride’s bass and Strickland’s clarinet taking on a distinctive classical vibe. Larry Young’s Obsequious provides more sonic challenges for the listener but when you think it is about to crash, McBride somehow pulls it back under control. The same could be said for Lurkers, which contains some fine bowed bass from McBride.

The Good Life, Dolphy Dust and Easy Broadway Rundown are my favourite tracks. They swing at a rapid pace and even have a hint of melody – but that would probably be overstating it. All three tracks showcase the fine musicianship of this quartet. As always, McBride leads in a demonstrative way but never overshadows, leaving the others plenty of space to shine.

These are a group of musicians who are comfortable with each other and with the music they produce; and they would have to be as there are no hiding places with this style of jazz. You are either 100% committed or you are in the wrong session. The same also goes for the listener. New Jawn may be a step too far for many, but there is no doubting the innovation, the talent, and the passion. This is album is certainly worth a listen for all McBride fans and the musically adventurous.

Discography
Head Bedlam; Prime; Moon Child; Obsequious; Lurkers; The Good Life; Dolphy Dust; East Broadway Rundown (54.33)
McBride (b); Josh Evans (t); Marcus Strickland (ts, bc); Nasheet Waits (d). Powerstation, New York, 16-17 December 2021.
Brother Mister BRO4004