Boomkat Product Review:
Leading light of Chicago contemporary jazz, Makaya McCraven makes it official with XL on a sterling solo debut for the label after his reimagining of a Gil Scott-Heron classic
Collaborator with everyone from Jeff Parker (Tortoise) to Emma-Jean Thackray, drummer/composer McCraven’s reputation as a player, producer and bandleader precedes him over some dozen albums for likes of International Anthem Recording Company and Blue Note. With the swooning designs of ‘In These Times’ he hustles a sprawling ensemble to his beat-driven, richly spirited sound, naturally refracting and recombining the spectra of jazz into a succinct and yet cinematic 11-part arrangement. Recorded with notables including Jeff Parker, Junius Paul, Brandee Younger, Joel Ross, and Marquis Hill, in five different studios and four live performance spaces, and benefiting from obsessive post-production detailing, it’s the definitive statement for a new decade from an artist whose sound could easily be mistaken as hailing from any year since the ‘70s, but distinguished by its contemporary beats.
Stemming from personal experience, and observing broader cultural life as a working class musician, there’s a effortlessly wide appeal to proceedings. It’s possible to attribute that appeal to McCraven’s crucial balance of needlepoint beats and orchestral composition on ‘In These Times’, flowing with a rare vibrancy between the heart-in-mouth communal lift of it titular opener and the strident blues-fusion jamming on ‘The Knew Untitled’. Echoes deep South African jazz tradition surface in ‘The Fours’, and his signature stick work is key to the lip-bitingly tight jazz-folk fusion of ‘High Fives’ or the melancholy, polymetric swoon of ‘Seventh String’, whereas the lounging modal shuffle of ‘Dream Another’ and Brandee Younger’s cascading harp strings on ‘Lullaby’ lucidly dial up Alice Coltrane comparisons. We can even hear parallels with Barry Adamson on the cinematic turns of phrase nestled in ‘This Place That Place’ and it ain’t hard to hear his well-watered, Afro-American roots - and those of Chicago - in the swag of ‘So Ubiji’.