Makaya McCraven showcases jazz's bright contemporary scenes throughout Universal Beings | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Makaya McCraven showcases jazz's bright contemporary scenes throughout Universal Beings 

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click to enlarge Makaya McCraven

Makaya McCraven

David Marques

At 35, Chicago jazz drummer, producer, and bandleader Makaya McCraven possesses the wisdom of a musician twice his age. In a July interview with Passion of the Weiss, McCraven shared the reason why he decided to record his new Universal Beings (International Anthem) in New York, Chicago, London, and Los Angeles. “Each scene has its own vibe and its own energy, but I'm also trying to tell a larger story about how we're all part of an international, global art scene,” McCraven said. “In this particular moment, there's an interesting movement in jazz where it's being redefined by young players and new audiences.” McCraven is one of those young players, and he’s using lessons and techniques from hip-hop, cumbia, funk, and strains of electronic music to build a bright path for the future of jazz while honoring its legacy. The music on Universal Beings comes from four improvised sessions—two from live sets at venues, two from private studios—with different combinations of collaborators, the cellist and composer Tomeka Reid is the only contributor who played in two sessions (New York and Chicago). As he has on his previous releases, McCraven edited down the live material to create the final album. The wide-ranging, immersive Universal Beings has so much going for it that I’m still grasping all its details, but because I go hard for the local scene I’ve taken a particular interest in the suite of songs McCraven has dubbed “Chicago Side," recorded at Bridgeport venue Co-Prosperity Sphere in 2017—McCraven’s playing is bolstered by his symbiotic relationship with bassist Junius Paul. Reid and tenor saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings ratchet up anxiety and provide a sense of relief on the sprawling, nervy “Atlantic Black,” and build a mystical harmony around McCraven’s boom-bap-inflected drumming on “Inner Flight.” For tonight’s debut ensemble performance, McCraven enlisted nine of the musicians who appeared on Universal Beings, including Tortoise’s Jeff Parker, harpist Brandee Younger, and tenor saxophonist Nubya Garcia.   v

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