Makaya McCraven: Universal Beings (International Anthem)

Review of album that the drummer/composer recorded in four cities with many special guests

Cover of Makaya McCraven album Universal Beings
Cover of Makaya McCraven album Universal Beings

Chicago-based drummer, composer, edit guru, and jazz adventurist Makaya McCraven recorded this splice-and-dice 22-song opus live in four different cities with a cast including saxophonists Shabaka Hutchings and Nubya Garcia, harpist Brandee Younger, cellist Tomeka Reid, and vibraphonist Joel Ross.

Working in “pop up” studios in New York, London, Chicago, and Los Angeles, McCraven then cut the collective improvisations to match his considerable vision. As he did with his prior records and mixtapes, McCraven post-produced, edited, and arranged the music into four suites. Like precedents from Bitches Brew to DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing….., the results speak to the mixer’s re-contextualization skills as much as any musician’s standard technique. Does it stand up? Is this spiritual jazz for remote control mavens? McCraven’s deft, sensitive drumming dots the lengthy recording (the double vinyl LP divides the music up by giving a side to each city it was recorded in) as he crisscrosses Afrobeat, cosmic exploration, hip-hop, Brazilian, and a smidgen of straight-ahead.

You could needle-drop anywhere within Universal Beings to experience a moment, but the hour-plus suite is like a circular journey across a desert, a city, and a sea: Fortify yourself, cast off expectation, and ride the undulating serpent of sound. Beauty awaits in the blazing pulse of “Prosperity’s Fear,” the hypnotic spinning wheel of “Flipped Out,” the heaving Rhodes sunspots of “Voila,” the free-jazz-meets-drum-and-bass caterwaul of “The Count Off.” Hype abounds as London’s insurgent world-jazz scene clashes with Kamasi Washington’s West Coast jazz-hop challenging New York’s old guard. Universal Beings is the first album to bring it all together in one cosmic, groove-heavy collage.

Preview or download Universal Beings on Amazon!

Ken Micallef

Ken Micallef was once a jazz drummer; then he found religion and began writing about jazz rather than performing it. (He continues to air-drum jazz rhythms in front of his hi-fi rig and various NYC bodegas.) His reportage has appeared in Time Out, Modern Drummer, DownBeat, Stereophile, and Electronic Musician. Ken is the administrator of Facebook’s popular Jazz Vinyl Lovers group, and he reviews vintage jazz recordings on YouTube as Ken Micallef Jazz Vinyl Lover.