in performance: christian mcbride’s new jawn

Christian McBride. Photo by Anna Webber.

Having put his fellow members of the New Jawn quartet through the paces, either with generous solo passages or ensemble skirmishes that continually juggled elements of swing, blues and playfully scattered bop, Christian McBride stood alone on the stage of the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center last night with his longtime musical weapon of choice – the double bass.

An inventive composer, bandleader, sideman and all around jazz entrepreneur, this was what his storied career boiled down to – a few incredibly wondrous minutes by himself creating a solo full of classically designed depth, compositional drama and even a bit of artful showmanship, especially when his hands met and crossed each other on the instrument’s neck as the solo gathered momentum.

But what defined McBride during this brief passage wasn’t his technical command or even his improvisational prowess, although both were in remarkable form. No, the secret was how the solo was really a catalyst, a set up, for “Brother Malcolm,” a spacious McBride original from the aptly named “Christian McBride’s New Jawn” album that was released on Friday. As the bass subsided to join forces with drummer Justin Faulkner’s rumbling backdrop, tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland and trumpeter Josh Evans let the tune unfold like a meditation, much like a vintage John Coltrane or Pharoah Sanders album might. As a result, this sublime blend of intro solo and ensemble prayer didn’t just highlight McBride the soloist, but McBride the band man, as well

The rest of the one hour, 50 minute performance – a major booking coup for the Origin Jazz Series’ second season – utilized the same formula but with a slightly different batting order. Strickland, for instance, switched to bass clarinet several times during the evening. He created an especially lustrous blues accent on the instrument that colored the Thelonious Monk-inspired “The Ballad of Ernie Washington” before switching back to sax to directly honor Monk with a suitably playful reading of “Misterioso.”

Sometimes the feel and tempos stayed cool and blue as on the McBride original “John Day.” In other instances, the bass and brass came in more punctuated stabs, as on a lively take on Wayne Shorter’s “Sightseeing.”  In the end, though, it was McBride who got in the last word with a woozy bass line during an encore tune that would drive, jerk backward and repeat. The bandleader told the audience the line was designed as a sort of drunken stroll. The tune’s name? “Walking Funny.”

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