Makaya McCraven Refracts The World Around Him


Makaya McCraven is among the 25 artists DownBeat thinks will help shape jazz in the decades to come.

(Photo: Leslie Kirchhoff)

​If one were looking for an album to illustrate an aesthetic shared by several musicians who appear on DownBeat’s “25 For The Future” list, an ideal candidate would be drummer and producer Makaya McCraven’s 2018 gem, Universal Beings (International Anthem). Personnel for the sessions included reedists Shabaka Hutchings and Nubya Garcia, bassist Junius Paul, cellist Tomeka Reid and vibraphonist Joel Ross.

After recording live performances with various assemblages of musicians in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and London, McCraven remixed the material in mind-blowing ways—chopping, splicing and thoroughly recontextualizing the music.

On July 31, International Anthem released Universal Beings E&F Sides. The source music was recorded at the same sessions that yielded the 2018 album, but using studio wizardry, the Chicago-based McCraven created 14 new tracks of what he calls “organic beat music.” E&F Sides is used as the soundtrack for Mark Pallman’s documentary about McCraven, also titled Universal Beings.

The Paris-born bandleader spoke to DownBeat in September via videoconference from his mother’s backyard in western Massachusetts, where he had traveled with his wife and two kids. McCraven said, “At my mom’s house, I have some instruments—a piano, a guitar and some old drums and stuff lying around. So, I’m mobile. I’m always working on something. Right now, trying to finish up my next ‘proper’ record.”

During the lockdown, McCraven has done a couple of commissioned remix projects. But he’s not thrilled about the prospect of livestreamed gigs: “For me, if we were going to do a high-level stream, and we’re going to get all these musicians together and we’re gonna get this recording equipment for a performance—well, why don’t we just do a record date? If we’re going to put all this energy into it, then let’s write music and let’s make a record.”

He expressed an eagerness to make art that reflects the state of the world. “I’d like to keep on moving forward,” he said. “The world is a very different place than it was in 2018.” DB

This story originally was published in the November 2020 issue of DownBeat. Subscribe here.

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