Grammy-winning bassist/composer Christian McBride returns with the second outing by his inventive, far-reaching New Jawn quartet. Due out February 24, 2023 via Brother Mister Productions/Mack Avenue Music Group, Prime features trumpeter Josh Evans, saxophonist Marcus Strickland, and drummer Nasheet Waits on a brilliant, explosive set of originals and jazz classics
With the release of its exhilarating second album, Prime, and seven years as a band under their collective belts, Christian McBride’s New Jawn isn’t quite so new anymore. You’d never guess it from the tightrope-walking sounds they create together, though, which is why the name still fits.
The quartet – bassist Christian McBride, trumpeter Josh Evans, saxophonist and bass clarinetist Marcus Strickland, and drummer Nasheet Waits – has managed to maintain a sense of freshness and daring that evokes the thrills of a group of brash upstarts, while navigating a wide spectrum of improvisational moods and daunting compositional challenges that could only be pulled off by four musicians of this unmatched caliber. Due out February 24, 2023 via Brother Mister Productions, McBride’s Mack Avenue Music Group imprint, Prime exemplifies jazz greats at the zenith of their powers who insist on scaling greater heights.
“I think that all of us are at our prime as musicians,” McBride said, explaining the album’s title, before slyly correcting himself. “No, I’ll think positive – we’re almost at our prime.”
That ambitious optimism is perhaps the key to McBride’s remarkable success. He clearly believes strongly that there’s always room for growth and more to achieve, regardless of the remarkable list of accomplishments that he’s already chalked up. At 50, the bassist and composer sits at the pinnacle of the jazz world, both a globally esteemed artist and a respected authority and advocate for the music.
Beyond his universally recognized virtuosity, McBride has won eight GRAMMY® Awards, garnered acclaim for his poignant ode to the Civil Rights era, The Movement Revisited, and performed at the White House. He’s an elder statesman before his time, possessed of the gravitas and renown expected of that title, yet he’s never conservative in his work, constantly looking beyond the next creative horizon.
In recent years, the New Jawn has been McBride’s main vehicle for that search. The chordless band was designed to be a sharp break from the bandleader’s past outfits following the end of his acclaimed trio with pianist Christian Sands and Ulysses Owens Jr. and his quintet Inside Straight, as well as extensive experiences touring with legendary players like guitarist Pat Metheny and the late pianist Chick Corea.
“I wanted to do something that was a complete 180 from those bands, and come at it from a completely different angle,” he describes. “I thought it was time to do something where I was the only person who was playing the harmony. It makes me have to think a little more when I can’t lean on a chordal instrument. I’ve got to be a little more on my toes with the New Jawn – and I like that.”
Heading into the band’s second recording, McBride was well aware of what the New Jawn is capable of and simply set out to provide them ample opportunity to exercise those jaw-dropping abilities. “Going into the studio, I never really have a conscious goal in mind other than to let these three fabulous musicians fly,” he said. “At this point, I just concentrate on making sure that these cats are in the most comfortable situation – or maybe not so comfortable, you know, so they might have to dig a little deeper. It’s a balance.”
McBride’s faith in his bandmates is amply reiterated. “Christian is one of the best bandleaders I have worked for,” says Strickland, a list that includes McCoy Tyner, Wynton Marsalis and Nicholas Payton. “He’s fun to hang and share the bandstand with, he allows input from others, he has a strong sense of self and direction, is extremely generous, and he’s a hero to us all – pure badassery.”
Strickland contributed the title tune, which McBride hails as “one of the baddest tunes I’ve ever heard.” The hard-driving track was initially inspired by a spectacular battle in one of the Transformers movies and was originally recorded for the saxophonist’s 2011 album Triumph of the Heavy Vol. 2. McBride prides himself on encouraging his sidemen to present themselves as composers as well as musicians in every project he leads.
Waits offered the atmospheric “Moonchild,” a moody reflection on his own childhood in Greenwich Village, depicting the young drummer gazing out his window and dreaming of the future. “The New Jawn has become a real band, and we’ve gotten used to each other’s taste and the way that we move,” Waits says. “Christian is unlike any bass player that I’ve worked with in the sense that he’s so melodic and adroit in the way he gets around the bass. He can the melody lines as well as holding down the bass part, so the rhythm section has more responsibility and more freedom at the same time.”
“Christian always lets us do our thing,” Evans adds. “We’ve played together so much as a band that we always find our way. After we start playing this music every night, it will [inevitably] evolve.”
Evans’ compositional side is represented by “Dolphy Dust,” a raucous tribute to the late, great multi-reedist Eric Dolphy. “Josh is such a historian,” McBride says. “He goes down rabbit holes that other people try to avoid. You’ll find musicians who run away from tradition because they think it holds them back or that critics will think they’re cool if they’re ‘trying to find a new path.’ Well, Josh knows you can find a new path by listening to people that no one else listens to. When he brought in ‘Dolphy Dust,’ I knew it was going to have that Booker Little / Eric Dolphy at the Five Spot vibe.”
McBride penned two new songs for the album, beginning with the frenetic opener, “Head Bedlam,” whose bracing explosiveness was inspired by the chaos occupying all of our brains in this modern age of constant input and outrage. The crepuscular “Lurkers” showcases Strickland’s bass clarinet, its moodiness suggesting eyes peering from the darkness. The setlist is completed by three well-curated classics: Larry Young’s “Obsequious,” Ornette Coleman’s “The Good Life,” and Sonny Rollins’ “East Broadway Run Down.” All were road tested during the group’s annual Village Vanguard residency.
“We all collectively know a lot of music,” McBride says. “So we go through the Rolodex in our heads and start throwing songs out there.”
Any jazz aficionado could rattle off a checklist of great chordless ensembles, naturally beginning with Sonny Rollins’ Way Out West trio and continuing with the likes of Lee Konitz, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan, and so forth. With his encyclopedic knowledge of the music’s history, McBride has imbibed them all, but the New Jawn is something entirely his own.
“At this point, I don’t really have any references that I consciously look to anymore,” he explains. “I’m comfortable finding my own way now.”
Christian McBride’s New Jawn · PrimeBrother Mister Productions/Mack Avenue Music Group · Release Date: February 24, 2023