Like many performers, I was hit with the realization back in 2020 that my full…
Christian McBride is renowned for his musical flexibility. Prime is the second release by the bassist’s New Jawn quartet, which takes a more freewheeling approach than his long-running — and rightfully acclaimed — quintet Inside Straight. It’s not just that there’s no pianist to establish the harmony; the group’s sound is loose-limbed and hard-edged, but still easily digestible.
That much is clear from the jump. “Head Bedlam” opens with a flurry of intertwining notes from trumpeter Josh Evans and Marcus Strickland’s bass clarinet, underpinned by drummer Nasheet Waits’ rumbles and cymbal crashes. Before long, however, McBride establishes a funky vamp that settles everything down. Strickland mirrors the pattern, then Waits settles into a slinky groove. Somehow, the transition from free jazz to deep funk seems natural. There’s a sense of balance on Waits’ pensive, atmospheric “Moonchild” as well, with McBride’s lines zigzagging underneath Evans and Strickland’s melodic explorations.
Each member contributes an original (two in McBride’s case), but there are plenty of nods to previous great chordless ensembles. The group serves up a fine version of Ornette Coleman’s “The Good Life,” propelled by Waits’ crisp statements across the kit, as well as a tight, exuberant rendition of Sonny Rollins’ “East Broadway Run Down.” And Evans’ original “Dolphy Dust,” a tribute to legendary multireedist Eric Dolphy, has the feel of a classic Dolphy tune with its twisting melody and off-kilter harmonies.
McBride has made so many excellent contributions in so many contexts that there’s nothing he needs to prove. But it’s still a pleasure to hear one of the greats upend our expectations with musicians who bring so much joy and urgency to their performances. — John Frederick Moore