Opera House, Wellington (8pm)
Wednesday, June 6
His new quartet, piano-less, harks back to the blowing-session workouts that Sonny Rollins offered with his late-50s trio and, from the same era, Ornette Coleman’s quartet with Don Cherry.
Calling it the New Jawn doffs a flat cap in the direction of free jazz’s roots too, though McBride’s group is exploratory without ever being truly free; drummer Nasheet Waits – a powerhouse – remained tethered to the groove in the way that Max Roach would in his workouts with Archie Shepp, always returning, heading out for a fossick but coming back home.
That’s true too of McBride’s work – his huge sound always a presence, and though his nimble-fingered approach allowed him to essentially portray both lead guitar and cello lines (simultaneously it sometimes seemed) on his upright bass there were big, proud notes ringing out for the tune to hold on to.
Josh Evans (the ‘new kid’ in the context of this group) on trumpet and Marcus Strickland (a regular collaborator of McBride’s) on tenor sax and bass clarinet coaxed the melodies and took extensive solos – Evans coming close to Miles Davis’ way with repetition though standing alone with just the rhythm section, rather than layering a trumpet-wash in and around so many keyboard parts.
There were original pieces from each member of the group, a super-charged bit of Larry Young (as if there’s any other kind!) and a closing calypso-infused rendition of the Pat Metheny/Ornette Coleman composition The Good Life from their 1986 collaboration, Song X. That was a nice note to end on, not just because its upbeat, good-time feel was a break from some of the powerful dirge-swept pieces, but also a wink to the one previous time we’ve had the chance to see McBride in Wellington, as part of Metheny’s trio for an Arts Festival appearance a decade ago.
McBride was in good form between songs, generous and warm with the banter, amused by our “All Blacks” team, saying that the term was somewhat misleading, but he was chuffed to have a souvenir jersey to wear at home.
But really it was the music that did the talking – and as mesmerising as it was to sit inside the notes conjured by the chief soloists it was often when the rhythm section was left alone on stage to step outside of their stock-role; Waits and McBride have known each other for years, both have been in-demand across a variety of musical configurations but this is the first time in a quarter-century of friendship that the two have worked together. It was so clear to see and hear and feel them relishing this musical conversation.
McBride’s Brother Malcolm, from his suite, The Movement, Revisited, was most certainly a highlight, harking back to the Civil Rights-era gospel-infused jazz that Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, among others, created. And a Nasheet Waits ballad took some of the feel and tone of the standard, ‘Round Midnight, and then moved toward a more overtly political and darker feel.
This was head music. Served with plenty of heart.
I got the feeling, and I could be way off here, that it was exhausting for many of the audience members, that there wasn’t quite enough to hang on to. But I thought it was a tour-de-force set from four genius-level players. And I eagerly await the September release of this New Jawn’s recorded debut.