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Hear "Prime," a bracing title track by Christian McBride's New Jawn

Ebru Yildiz

“Prime,” the title track of a new album by Christian McBride's New Jawn, captures four musical aces in a spirited exchange. WRTI is proud to feature the single in an exclusive premiere, before its worldwide release this Friday.

Composed by Marcus Strickland, the saxophonist and bass clarinetist in the New Jawn, “Prime” places listeners in the center of the group’s sound and scope. The technical facility and take-no-prisoners attitude of trumpeter Josh Evans is immediately gripping, and the dynamism of McBride on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums creates a compelling whirlwind of rhythm. Never is the group unsure or unsteady. Trust and camaraderie are evident from beat one, stemming from the New Jawn’s experience dazzling crowds around the world.

In a band this flexible, the right tune can elicit a performance that creates a memory. On "Prime," the quartet sounds out with an affinity and delight in the song’s linear structure and melodic callbacks — further confirmed by McBride.

"Marcus composed 'Prime,' and when he brought it to the band, it immediately became one of my favorites," McBride tells WRTI. "It's one of those tunes that we all immediately 'got.' The energy of the song, its sophisticated, active melody, just captured our attention. So much so that it became the title track of the album."

As “Prime” is top-shelf New Jawn, the song’s best feature lies just below the surface: a harmonic structure that holds fast through each member’s melodic variation and rhythmic ebb and flow. Working without a chordal instrument can create more leeway for a soloist, but in the case of Strickland, Evans and McBride, their cunning navigation of form allows them to connect the dots of Strickland’s harmonic underpinning. Even more attention should be given to the rhythmic lock of McBride and Waits. The freedom in their groove often elicits a phantom third voice, causing a listener to almost hear a pianist comping behind Evans and Strickland.

If “Prime” and a previous single, “Head Bedlam,” are any indication of the album’s scope and feel, listeners who are cautious about piano-less groups may have found their entry point to a world of sound, without a net.

Christian McBride's New Jawn: Prime will be released on Feb. 24; preorder here.

Greg Bryant has been a longtime curator of improvisational music as a broadcaster, writer, host and musician. As a young child, he began absorbing the artistry of Miles Davis, Les McCann, Jimmy Smith, James Brown, Ornette Coleman, Weather Report, and Jimi Hendrix via his parent's record collection. He was so moved by what he was experiencing that he took pride in relaying all of his discoveries with anyone who would listen.