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Makaya McCraven: In These Times (International Anthem/Nonesuch)

A review of the drummer and composer's album that lures you into its unique veneer and blurs genre borders into oblivion

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Makaya McCraven: In These Times (International Anthem/Nonesuch)
The cover of In These Times by Makaya McCraven

Drummer and composer Makaya McCraven calls himself a “beat scientist,” and he lives up to the title (as do other drummers like Kassa Overall and Karriem Riggins). The Paris-born, Chicago-based McCraven often makes records by recording live sessions, then editing them into mesmerizing collages of sound full of approachable sonic narratives, beguiling textures, and enrapturing rhythms. In many ways he is (in classic jazz terms) Teo Macero and Miles Davis combined, and like the legendary trumpeter he attracts the very best musicians of our time to collaborate. This time out, vibraphone master Joel Ross is on hand, as are harpist Brandee Younger, bassist Junius Paul, saxophonist Greg Ward, and guitarist Jeff Parker. If McCraven just wanted to hold a public blowing session with these cats, it would be well worth hearing.

In These Times begins with the title track, highlighted by a tape of Harry Belafonte talking about John Henry and progress on a Studs Terkel radio show backed gently with sounds evocative of twilight. Paul’s bass anchors the next piece, “The Fours,” then Parker’s guitar does the same for “High Fives.” Both are augmented with a dense weave of sumptuous sound layers. This has been McCraven’s m.o. throughout his recordings as a leader like Universal Beings (2018) and In the Moment (2015), as well as on some of his remix/producer projects, but what’s emerging from this release is how it reflects another new Chicago sound. The album feels of a piece with recent work from Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra and Parker’s solo projects. It even hearkens back to TNT-era Tortoise. It’s music that lures you into its unique veneer and blurs genre borders into oblivion.

Learn more about In These Times on Amazon, Apple Music, and Walmart

Artist’s Choice: Makaya McCraven on the Studio as Instrument

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