The term “jawn”—a catch-all piece of Philly jargon covering everything from object to idea—speaks to the home turf and high-level hipness of Christian McBride, as well as the broadness of vision at play here. And this most certainly marks the start of a new chapter for the distinguished bassist, serving as the launch of his own imprint (under the Mack Avenue umbrella) and the debut document from his titular piano-less quartet. Put that all together and this album’s name starts to make sense. Just don’t let that knowledge fool you into thinking you know what’s coming.
In adopting said instrumental format, and with the herky-jerky demands of “Walkin’ Funny” and the dicey propositions of “Ke-Kelli Sketch,” McBride signals an embrace of a freer aesthetic. But “freer” and “free” are two different things. While it’s true that everybody loosens their grip in this setting, nobody lets go. With saxophonist Marcus Strickland, trumpeter Josh Evans, and drummer Nasheet Waits in the mix, and with McBride ably helming the ship, wooly ways don’t stand a chance of prevailing. There’s simply too much experience and wisdom for that to happen.
Passion pours out of these four as the program progresses, and a fair amount of the music that follows the opening salvos exhibits lighter tones and/or stronger bones. A smoky beauty comes to the fore on Evans’ “Ballad of Ernie Washington.” Up jumps swing on Strickland’s fast and fiery “The Middle Man.” A sophisticated cool wins out on Waits’ “Kush,” and a controlled intensity defines McBride’s “John Day.” What starts out looking like a complete departure of form for this bassist of note turns out to be something else entirely: the continuation of one man’s grand creative journey and a ready acknowledgement of possibility in motion.