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Christian McBride’s New Jawn at Koerner Hall: Concert Review

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Christian McBride's New Jam
Christian McBride's New Jam

Christian McBride is the man. My daughter was recently in London, England, for work and sent me a message. She explained she had the chance to go to Ronnie Scott’s and to see a performance by Christian McBride’s New Jawn. She asked me if I thought that would be worthwhile.

My reply: First off, Ronnie Scott’s is the jazz mecca of London, and it is one of the most celebrated jazz clubs in the world.

Secondly, Christian McBride is the Man, and whatever group he is fronting will be awesome. Well, my daughter got to Ronnie Scott’s, and she got to hear the band and meet the man, Christian McBride, in person.

My daughter told Christian McBride she had come from Toronto to see the group. His reply, “What! You couldn’t have waited a few weeks? we’ll be playing in Toronto.”

Christian McBride’s New Jawn project is a band that has been around for years. The first album, self-titled, was recorded in 2017 and released in 2018. The band’s most recent album, Prime, was released in February 2023.

Christian McBride’s New Jawn: Prime
Christian McBride’s New Jawn: Prime

Some, including McBride,  have indicated the project is a departure from what may be considered the norm for him. His regular style of music and composition includes chords. In this group, there are no chords, no piano, and no guitar. The feeling is like taking on free jazz or avant-garde styling. I heard great music played by accomplished musicians.

Perhaps the name of the group says it all: New Jawn. Jawn is a Philadelphia slang word for ‘anything’. It is one of those all-encompassing words applicable to the group’s music—a blend of many styles, a little bit of everything and anything.

It’s Saturday evening on November 4, 2023. The Koerner Hall concert began with the band taking to the stage for a warm Toronto welcome. When the applause lessened, Christian McBride thanked the audience and introduced the band. Nasheet Waits on drums, Josh Evans on trumpet “and playing tenor saxophone and flute, filling in all week for Marcus StricklandGerry Thomas”.

I had been looking forward to hearing Marcus Strickland. However, Gerry Thomas did not disappoint. He did an exemplary job filling in and playing some of the Strickland lines. There was lots of spontaneous composition in play.

New Jawn proceeded to play Head Bedlam,  a tune, as the name would suggest, a chaotic sound with the leanings of free jazz, a la Frank Wright inspiration.  McBride explained later in the concert that he composed this song during the Pandemic. It is a reflection of the bedlam occurring during that time. He wanted the world to put down their phones and to stop listening to all the conflicting reports. Christian McBride said, “We’re just asking the world to groove more.”

The band played Sightseeing, a Wayne Shorter composition, a chance for Gerry Thomas to let go and play some smooth lines that produced pleasing, rolling waves of sonic delight. Josh Evans quickly got into the show with blistering runs and solid and bold statements harking back to the great be-bop trumpeters before him.

The last time I witnessed Josh Evans was in 2009 with the great drummer Rashied Ali Quintet as part of the Art of Jazz Festival in Toronto’s Distillery District. My friend, the recently departed David Fujino, had this to say for the Live Music Report, “Like Josh Evans, whose trumpet had all the energy and hard-playing technique of the recently departed Freddie Hubbard.”

This was a well-paced show; the dynamics would build with uptempo hi-energy tunes and then smoothly mellow with some extended slower-paced songs, some with sad, melancholy refrains, such as the song “John Day” and another, “Kush,” a Nasheet Waits composition. It incorporates beautiful trumpet playing by Evans and a stirring col-arco interlude care of McBride. Waits continued the tune with a rousing drum solo to highlight his extreme, relaxed heaviness—a great drummer displaying fantastic technique.

Other songs played during the performance included a highly syncopated tune entitled Walking Funny.  McBride spoke of his Movement Revisited album and the composition Brother Malcolm X, he took up his bass and proceeded to play a haunting refrain; the saxophone would join in, and then the drums, Waits playing with brushes. Simply beautiful!  An Ornette Coleman composition, The Good Life is the encore song. It was an upbeat Bossa Nova-style tune that had that Caribbean party-style flavor. When the concert concluded, I had a joyous feeling and a strong belief that music is the antidote to what ails the world. Christian McBride may be right; more people need to put down their phones and groove a little more.

An independent journalist, based in Toronto, Canada. A professional musician and a fan of music, dance and the arts. I have written short stories, lyrics, poetry and reviews. I have been published in numerous online webzines. I’ve taught drumming and played in bands; I have felt the passion to create. I enjoy expressing that passion, the artistic experience, in words, reporting on the shows and musical experiences that I have witnessed.

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