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Explosive innovations

VJC to host Grammy-winning bassist Christian McBride and his new quartet

Eugene Uman is the executive artistic director of the Vermont Jazz Center. Tickets for Christian McBride’s New Jawn at the Vermont Jazz Center are $20 general admission, $15 for students with I.D. (contact VJC about educational discounts); available at In the Moment in Brattleboro, or online at www.vtjazz.org, by email at ginger@vtjazz.org. Tickets can also be reserved by calling the Vermont Jazz Center ticket line, 802-254-9088, ext. 1. Handicapped access is available by calling the VJC at 802-254-9088.

BRATTLEBORO—The Vermont Jazz Center is proud to present Christian McBride’s New Jawn on Friday, Oct. 12, at 8 p.m. The band includes McBride on bass, with Josh Evans (trumpet), Marcus Strickland (saxophones), and Billy Hart sitting in for Nasheet Waits on the drums.

McBride, a six-time Grammy award-winning bassist, is one of the most ubiquitous musicians on the jazz scene today.

Just a quick glance at his upcoming schedule demonstrates his vast range of projects: gigs with the New Jawn Quartet, Dianne Reeves, Laurie Anderson, Chick Corea and Esperanza Spalding; and a week after the quartet’s presentation at the Jazz Center, he’ll be playing bass and music directing a celebration of the 50th anniversary of James Brown’s “I’m Black and I’m Proud” at the Apollo Theater.

McBride is music director of the Newport Jazz Festival and was artistic director of the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Summer Sessions, co-director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, and the second creative chair for Jazz of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association. He is artistic advisor for Jazz House Kids and New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

In addition, McBride hosts two radio shows: “Jazz Night in America” on NPR and “The Lowdown: Conversations with Christian” on SiriusXM. It’s remarkable that McBride still has time to practice and lead ambitious projects, but his output is prolific and profound — his most recent Grammy was for a big band album for which he wrote and/or arranged nine of the 11 compositions on the recording.

Another indication of Christian McBride’s ambitious musical breadth is his mastery of a variety of styles and comfort in numerous genres: he says the music he plays is “People Music.” He attended Julliard, where he studied classical performance, but he was raised on the funk of James Brown as well as the Bach cello suites.

He learned on the road with the likes of Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, and Sting and, as a youth, he seriously considered having a dual career in classical and jazz.

In his online press kit, McBride says: “Sometimes jazz musicians can get too caught up in their own heads; they get so serious and so caught up in their creativity that they’re not bringing the people in ... When you pull the people in, you can go anywhere as long as they feel like they’re a part of the ride.”

McBride continues by noting, “That’s why Cannonball Adderley was always my hero — he always exemplified high artistry, but no matter how esoteric or abstract it could get, he still related to people.”

McBride’s ability to play with fire and authenticity in every style and genre he chooses is why he is a first-call sideman for so many disparate projects.

Along with his 13 albums as a leader, he can be found playing on about 350 recordings with artists as wide-ranging as Pat Metheny, Kathleen Battle, Diana Krall, the Shanghai Quartet, Nnenna Freelon, David Sanborn, John Pizzarelli, Brad Mehldau, Sir Paul McCartney, Roy Hargrove, The Roots, Joe Henderson, the New York Voices, George Duke, Linda Ronstadt, McCoy Tyner, Al Jarreau, Sonny Rollins, Eddie Palmieri, John Zorn, Wayne Shorter, even Queen Latifah, Celine Dion, Angilique Kidjo, and the Jaco Pastorius Big Band.

McBride will bring his new band, Christian McBride’s New Jawn, to the VJC as part of his tour to celebrate the release of their new album (scheduled release date is Oct. 26).

The band and the music are burning hot. Each member of the group provides a crisp, creative, and virtuosic ingredient to the band’s repertoire. The disc’s pre-release, “The Middleman,” (which can be found on Spotify) is explosive.

The name of the group, “New Jawn,” is confusing at first. But when one is reminded of McBride’s hometown of Philadelphia and his reverence for jazz history, the origin of the name comes into focus. According to Urban Dictionary, the word “Jawn” is used in Philadelphia slang to describe a “person, place, or thing.”

Perhaps the name also alludes to “The New Thing,” a historical reference to the music of Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollins when they were exploring chord-less quartet music in the early 1960s; it also could be a way of citing the explosive contrast that John Coltrane and Archie Shepp brought to the Newport Jazz Festival in 1965, captured as an LP called “The New Thing at Newport.”

McBride’s New Jawn doesn’t sound like Ornette or ’Trane, but the music he makes embodies a sense of freshness and intensity that bridges it with the formidable energy that ’Trane, Shepp, Coleman, and Rollins brought to their music in the early 1960s.

The musicians in New Jawn are all leaders in their own right and each utilizes their power, intelligence, and communicative abilities to create music that is inspired by that prior glorious yet tumultuous earlier era, while remaining not entirely of it as well.

McBride’s concept to form an all-star quartet to explore the potential of music without a harmonic instrument gives each individual, and the group as a whole, permission to discover new sounds and forms in real time. Their music fearlessly expresses their boundless creativity.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #480 (Wednesday, October 10, 2018). This story appeared on page B1.

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