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Christian McBride’s New Jawn proved that being safe isn’t always best

I don’t find anything particularly interesting about musical virtuosity, at least not on its own. 

Consequently, I’ll admit that agreeing to review a show by US jazz bassist Christian McBride and his New Jawn quartet, with whom the V word is often associated, was perhaps not the smartest move. But hey, I love jazz and had nothing else planned for the night.
 
The second of two shows this evening, the sold out Jazz Lab was about as packed as you could reasonably envision it, the collective bodies causing an uncomfortable amount of heat, especially considering we were all dressed for winter. Choosing a spot on the tiered seating at the rear of the oblong-shaped room, I squeezed between a red-wine sipping middle-aged couple who made their displeasure at my proximity known, and a pair of dudes who were enthusing over the pearl inlays on the neck of a particular guitar one of them owned. A group of young men – one of whom I shit you not was legit wearing a turtleneck – took the seats/stairs in front of us and continued to wiggle back so that my feet were tucked under their bony buttocks, no matter how much I tried shifting my legs to draw attention to this fact.
 
New Jawn consists of drummer Nasheet Waits, trumpet player Josh Evans, saxophonist Marcus Strickland and McBride. Performing original compositions from an as-yet-untitled forthcoming release slated for September, mixed with tunes by Sonny Rollins and Ornette Coleman, the quartet’s take on contemporary jazz was referential and reserved in terms of any excess of emotion to the playing. Of the four instrumentalists, Strickland was the stand out player, showing restraint and no shortage of soulful expression in his solos.
 
To be completely honest, I’m trying to think of polite things to say right now because the band were tight, technically proficient and each a master of their instruments. It’s not even that the pieces performed were overly traditional – I mean some of McBride’s parts, particularly when he reached for his bow, seemed almost indebted to metal (side note: I hate metal virtuosity too), and there were certainly enough strangled trumpet blasts pushing the boundaries of pitch – it’s just that the whole thing felt a little well manicured and safe. And music should never be safe, no matter the style, genre or setting, no way.
 
Highlight: Marcus Strickland.
Lowlight: Me. I’m sorry, it’s not you it’s me, Mr. McBride. You were fine.
Crowd Favourite: Hard to tell, they applauded politely after each solo.