Philadelphian-born Christian McBride is one of the leading bassists of his generation and a musician at home on both acoustic and electric bass.

Mack Avenue Records BRO4004

Christian McBride (bass); Josh Evans (trumpet); Marcus Strickland (tenor sax, bass clarinet); Nasheet Waits (drums)
Recorded: PowerStation, New York 16-17 December 2021)

If you’re one of those jazz fans who prefers listening to melodic tunes such as Miles Davis’s ‘So What,’ and Dave Brubeck’s ‘Time Out,’ you might find some of this album a little too abstract for your tastes.

But if you like jazz that is challenging, exciting, dynamic, occasionally free – and in places, dissonant and avant-garde – then this record could well energise your ears.

Philadelphian-born Christian McBride is one of the leading bassists of his generation (he’s 51) and a musician at home on both acoustic and electric bass (he plays the former on this album).

He’s made numerous recordings as leader, with a variety of band configurations, as well as supported a who’s who of musicians from the jazz, pop and funk worlds including, Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, Wynton Marsalis, Chick Corea, Diana Krall, Sting, Paul McCartney and James Brown.

His keyboard-less quartet includes two horn players and a drummer. Trumpeter Josh Evans was inspired by Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie, mentored by Jackie McLean and has played with Cedar Walton, Benny Golson and Roy Hargrove.

Marcus Strickland plays tenor sax and bass clarinet on this album, and has played with Roy Haynes, Dave Douglas, Jeff “Tain” Watts and his brother, drummer E.J. Strickland. Drummer Nasheet Waits has supported Jason Moran, Avishai Cohen and Eddie Gomez.

Incidentally, ‘Jawn’ is Philadelphian slang for a person, place or thing. There are eight tunes on the album, five of them composed by the band members (McBride has two compositions and the rest of the band, one apiece) with covers of tunes composed by Larry Young, Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollins. McBride composed the opening number ‘Head Bedlam,’ and never has a tune been more appropriately named.

It begins with wild, banshee-like shrieks from the horn section, while drummer Nasheet Waits sounds as if he’s dropped his drum kit down the stairs. A minute in and McBride plays a bass riff, which is doubled up by Strickland’s rich, deep bass clarinet.

The band then sets up a great slow groove, with Evan’s trumpet and joining the band to fire off a series of notes and riffs. The closing minute reverts back to the frenetic playing. It’s a superb opener, and I would urge anyone listening to this number for the first time to stick with it after the opening – your ears will be richly rewarded.

‘Prime’ is a swinging number composed by Strickland that sees Waits playing an assortment of time signatures and rhythms, Strickland blowing hard on tenor sax and Evans soloing impressively on open trumpet. McBride keeps everything anchored and plays a solo that highlights his touch, tone and fluency.

At the coda, Waits breaks out with a blistering solo. ‘Moonchild’ sounds like a lament, and the tune evokes a feeling of melancholy. It starts with a duet between McBride on bass and Strickland on bass clarinet. When Evans joins in on trumpet, his mournful delivery makes it sound like he’s playing a farewell tribute in a graveyard.

The band plays a forceful version of Larry Young’s ‘Obsequious’ with Strickland’s tenor to the fore. In a couple of sections, Strickland’s sax cries and shrieks over an open hi-hat beat, which reminded this listener of Earl Young’s playing on the Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes hit ‘Bad Luck’ – it’s no surprise that McBride will have been influenced by the Philly Records sound.

McBride’s second composition ‘Lurkers’ is the longest piece at a shade under nine minutes in length. McBride plays arco bass at the intro, creating a rich, deep cello-like sound. It’s a menacing number, with the bass, bass clarinet and muted trumpet combining to create sinister tones and colours, and sounding like a creature rising from the deep.

The contrast between the previous number and Ornette Coleman’s ‘The Good Life’ could not be greater – it’s like light following shade, as the band plays this upbeat, Latin-tinged number. McBride delivers yet another imposing solo, furiously working the fingerboard. Josh Evans’ tribute to alto saxophonist Eric Dolphy, ‘Dolphy Dust’ is a swinging number which combines post-bop with the avant-garde.

The album closes with an exuberant version of Sonny Rollins’ ‘East Broadway Rundown’ with McBride unleashing yet another majestic solo. This music isn’t always the easiest to get into, but all I would say is that if you are initially uncertain, persevere, because sometimes, the good things in life are well worth the effort.