Christopher McBride | Ramon Review
A Resonant Album of Musical Storytelling
by Darnell Jackson
Harlem-based saxophonist, educator, and arranger Christopher McBride has long been a musical chameleon, seamlessly oscillating among genres like jazz, hip-hop, and R&B. However, his latest release, Ramon, transcends a mere continuation of his discography. Released on February 17, 2023, this offering serves as a deeply personal diary that narrates McBride’s artistic evolution since relocating to New York, while converging multiple musical genres under the broad banners of jazz and swing.
McBride’s debut, Quatuor de Force in 2012, already had an indelible impact on his audience. Though that album strongly introduced his exceptional musicianship, Ramon reveals a more introspective side of the artist, offering an expansive emotional palette and deeper thematic layers. This sophomore effort blends Swing, Jazz, R&B, and Hip-Hop into a soulful fusion, capturing McBride’s personal and musical maturation.
What sets this album apart is its thematic focus on the locales that have significantly influenced McBride. Take “Bronx Unchained,” a track that serves as a sonic tapestry of his week-long experience in the South Bronx. The song fluidly transitions from aggressive hip-hop beats to uplifting jazz sequences, offering a kaleidoscopic, almost filmic view of life in the borough. This adept genre-switching isn’t just a demonstration of McBride’s versatility; it forges a dialogue between his personal experiences and the larger cultural fabric.
“Lady D” serves as a fervent homage to McBride’s mother. Anchored by a rousing saxophone ensemble, the track exudes an infectious energy that seems to echo the resilience and tenacity that likely shaped McBride himself. Then there’s “Your Eyes Can’t Lie,” where McBride collaborates with vocalist J. Hoard in a nuanced investigation into the intricacies of romantic relationships. The seamless synergy between vocals and instruments crafts an atmosphere that is both soulful and disarmingly honest.
Sonically, Ramon is a marvel. A rich tapestry of instrumentation interweaves saxophone, trumpet, piano, bass, drums, guitar, tuba, trombone, keys, and vocals into a complex yet harmonious mosaic. McBride’s saxophone work is particularly compelling, showcasing a robust grasp of bebop and contemporary jazz idioms. His interaction with intricate drum patterns forms the album’s structural cornerstone, as he skillfully melds swing, R&B, and Hip-Hop influences. Even with its meticulous production values, the album maintains an organic texture, underscoring its self-released authenticity.
In the broader jazz landscape, Ramon echoes the works of luminaries like Bobby Broom and the Marquis Hill Blacktet. Yet, it carves out its unique niche through a personalized amalgamation of life experiences and musical styles. A particularly poignant moment comes with the third movement of “Stand Your Ground,” a moving tribute to Trayvon Martin that draws influence from saxophonist Ernest Dawkins. This heartfelt piece encapsulates McBride’s complex emotions while offering timely social commentary.
With Ramon, Christopher McBride has sculpted a musical autobiography interlaced with cultural observations. It is a portfolio that not only reflects his eclectic talents but also holds a mirror to the multifaceted social and emotional landscapes we all traverse. Given its thematic richness and emotional candor, the album is set to resonate not only with jazz connoisseurs but with anyone open to a musically enriching journey steeped in nuanced emotion and artistic excellence.
Release Date: February 17, 2023