Christian McBride - New Jawn

Label: Mack Avenue, 2018

Personnel - Marcus Strickland: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Josh Evans: trumpet; Christian McBride: double bass; Nasheet Waits: drums.

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Philadelphia-born Christian McBride, one of the most fluid and fluent jazz bassists in the world, debuts a new quartet, New Jawn, whose name derives from Philly jargon and can be translated as ‘new joint’. The quartet affiliates - saxophonist Marcus Strickland, trumpeter Josh Evans, and drummer Nasheet Waits - contribute with two compositions each to a colorful song list that also admits Wayne Shorter’s “Sightseeing”.

The group’s eponymous album spreads thrillingly fresh ideas that surge with infectious energy and grandiose conviction. A great example of that is the opening tune, McBride’s “Walkin’ Funny”, which blends the exhilaration of Lee Morgan’s melodies with asymmetric notions of rhythm and collective improvisatory effervescence that refuses any commercial approach in favor of creative freedom. This same posture marks Waits’ “Ke-Kelli Sketch”, where compelling bowed bass is turned into a galloping groove, at the same time that early loose drumming becomes profusely acute, erecting an elastic avant-garde background over which Evans engraves discernible rhythmic figures. The foundation is reconfigured into a soul-imbued template to welcome Strickland’s melody-driven speech.

Evans’ pieces, “The Ballad of Ernie Washington” and “Pier One Import”, bring chunks of tradition in its rollicking lines. The former brims with a melodicism that is worthy of the Great American Songbook, while the latter is a post-bop incursion with lustrous unison phrases and killing solos. In turn, Strickland bestows “The Middle Me”, a swing ride taken at a burning tempo with a Freddie Hubbard-like intensity, and “Seek The Source”, a blues where everyone finds room to stretch out.

Employing brushes for a more meditative circumstance, Waits outlines his “Kush” song with delicacy. McBride doesn’t let this low-key vibe curb his arco extemporization while Strickland upholds the groove on bass clarinet. The bandleader also improvises on the moderate walker “John Day”, a tune he wrote in 3/4 with a gorgeous head riff and a Nardis-like semblance.

Communicating with countless details and peculiarities, these cats prove they dominate the jazz idiom from end to end.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Walkin’ Funny ► 02 - Ke-Kelli Sketch ► 08 - John Day


Christian McBride Big Band - Bringin It

Label/Year: Mack Avenue Records, 2017

Lineup includes – Christian McBride: bass; Ron Blake: tenor sax, flute; Steve Wilson: alto and soprano sax, flute; Todd Bashore: alto sax, flute, piccolo; Carl Maraghi: bari sax, bass clarinet; Dan Pratt: tenor sax, flute; Freddie Hendrix: trumpet; David Lee: trumpet; Frank Greene: trumpet; Nabate Isles: trumpet; Steve Davis: trombone; Michael Dease: trombone; James Burton: trombone; Joe McDonough: trombone; Douglas Purviance: bass trombone; Rodney Jones: guitar; Xavier Davis: piano; Melissa Walker: vocals; Quincy Phillips: drums.

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Every record put out by the world-class jazz bassist Christian McBride is well worth checking out. After digging Live at the Village Vanguard with his trio, the bassist returns to the big band format with Bringin’ It, an honorable follow-up to the 2011 Grammy Award winner The Good Feeling.

What does McBride bring us this time? Originals? Jazz standards? Elated post-bop classics? Well, the answer is yes to all of that, and he does it with an impressive cohort of artists and outstanding soloists, many of them retrieved from the first experience, including saxophonists Ron Blake and Steve Wilson, trumpeter Freddie Hendrix, trombonists Steve Davis and Michael Dease, as well as pianist Xavier Davis and vocalist Melissa Walker.

Gettin’ To It”, the first of three reshaped old originals by the bassist, flows with soulful energy, colored with Rodney Jones’ funk-oriented guitar chops and filled with lots of jabs and hooks thrown in by the improvisers. Hendrix sounds magisterial in his brave trumpet ululations and then Jones applies all his bluesiness to an individual statement, well backed by a trombone/baritone ostinato.

Freddie Hubbard’s “Thermo” is a triumphant, engaging post-bop vehicle for the soloists, who take us to the golden era of jazz without leaving aside the buoyant twists of modernity.

McBride’s remaining compositions, “Youthful Bliss” and “Used ‘Ta Could”, are both colorful but inhabit different worlds. The former, including a bass discourse with bright melody and groove, cultivates a post-bop idolization with occasional delicate ripples of soul and Latin for extra color, while the latter is a celebratory waltz with plenty of Mingus’ moods.

Another punch in the stomach arrives with McCoy Tyner’s “Sahara”, exuberantly set in motion by Quincy Phillips’ mallet drumming together with free-floating woodwinds, and then leaning on a 6/8 groove with vibrant horn unisons atop. Striking improvisations from piano and alto saxophone occur over modal harmonic progressions while Phillips finishes off what he had started, resorting to his classy rhythmic deftness.

Wes Montgomery’s groovy “Full House” starts with packaging all the original guitaristic steam in Jones’ well-measured solo, passing by Carl Maraghi’s magnetic baritone before the epic finale. The vivacity felt here opposes to the more tranquil vibes of the jazz standards “I Thought About You” and “ In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning”.

The vocal warmness of Ms. Melissa Walker is quite something on Djavan’s Brazilian hit “Upside Down” (the original version is called “Flor de Lis”), and also polishes up “Mr. Bojangles”, a tune by the American country artist Jerry Jeff Walker, here brought up with interesting rhythmic details and a leisurely swing.

Suffused with striking arrangements and turning the ensemble's grandiose sense of unity to its advantage, Bringin’ It is a tour-de-force album that substantiates how a modern big band can sound so stalwart and effulgent at the same time.

        Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Thermo ► 03 - Youthful Bliss ► 05 – Sahara