Master jazz bassist Christian McBride plays with a quartet of peers who push him to a bolder date, and he matches them easily at every step
by Will Layman
Bassist Christian McBride has been state of the art on his instrument from a young age, a player with the tone, time, and technique to play with anyone in music regardless of genre or circumstance. His roster of record dates and star turns spans Sonny Rollins to Renee Fleming, Pat Metheny to Queen Latifah, Paul McCartney to McCoy Tyner. As a leader he fronts a big band, a strong mainstream quintet, a trio, you name it.
His latest, Christian McBride’s New Jawn, however, feels as fresh as anything he has ever done. While McBride is, himself, old reliable— a huge sound, incredible swing feeling, barreling energy—this band and its musical approach have more edge and daring than the usual McBride project. The date, recorded last year in St. Louis, features a piano-less quartet with Josh Evans (trumpet) and Marcus Strickland (tenor sax and bass clarinet) on the front line and drummer Nasheet Waits in the rhythm section with the leader. The compositions from all four members of the “New Jawn” with Wayne Shorter’s “Sightseeing” (written for Weather Report). If McBride’s profile as an artist has been almost aggressively mainstream and accessible, his New Jawn seems like an act of letting go and taking more chances. It is a cool breeze of daring that still hits a sweet spot of swing and soulfulness.
McBride’s two originals are very different but both as engaging as any mainstream jazz. “Walkin’ Funny” features a soul-drenched, blues melody, but it is seated over time feeling that is simultaneously swinging and strange. As the title suggests, the bass line “walks” in that classic “four on the floor” jazz style, but then… it doesn’t. The time signature shifts, speeding up then slowing down, all within just a handful of bars that create the tune’s structure. It is so ingeniously constructed, however, that it sounds entirely natural and swinging despite how hard it is to tap your toe to it. The players don’t take traditional jazz “solos” on the form, but they collectively let loose over a chorus or two, themselves speeding up and dragging out the writing, trading squiggles and squawks, and bits of expressive atonality—all while Waits plays around the time like a happy toddler. It is less than three minutes long—the length of a pop song—but it lets you know that all of this album is going to stretch out your ears.