Makaya McCraven: In These Times
Chicago drummer Makaya McCraven has shaken up the jazz world in recent years, deploying a fiercely holistic approach toward music where anything can find its way into his expansive sound world. With his 2015 album, In the Moment, the drummer quietly devised a system that’s marked much of his music making ever since, leading and recording wide-open improvised sessions with an ever-growing network of collaborators. McCraven, the son of long-time Archie Shepp drummer Steve McCraven, would retreat to his studio and begin to make sense of the raw footage, recognizing and isolating patterns, deep grooves, fiery solos, and spontaneous melodies and building impressively cogent tunes from his febrile source material.
The practice has yielded serious dividends, not only giving him a way to forge new material which he then takes out on the road to further refine and extrapolate upon, but developing his chops as a producer, which has seen him reinvent the music of Gil-Scott Heron as well as gems from the Blue Note Records catalog with a beguiling mixture of post-production and fresh collaborations with musicians like Jeff Parker, Joel Ross, and Marquis Hill.
McCraven returned to a more conventional approach with his latest album In These Times, a collection of music he’s been working on for more than seven years. He flipped the script, writing the music in advance and painstakingly assembling the arrangements over time. Whereas his live gigs are bursting with extended improvisations and endlessly shape-shifting grooves, the latest record is decidedly reserved, with concise solos from players like Hill, Matt Gold, and Greg Ward sinking into the glistening lattice of strings and the piquant harp of Brandee Younger in a way that summons the genius of the legendary Chicago arranger Charles Stepney, who masterfully collided jazz, soul, and pop on his productions for Chess Records in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Still, there’s no doubt McCraven and his formidable cast of collaborators will bust the music open when they bring it to the stage, advancing his commitment to vibrantly remaking sound in the moment.