Makaya McCraven – In The Moment (2016, Deluxe Edition)

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While Kamasi Washington got much attention last year for updating Pharoah Sanders’ spiritually charged presence, Makaya McCraven offered up something that was truly innovative. Distilling forty-eight hours of live performances into nineteen tracks that’s stitched together like a hip-hop mixtape, McCraven culled improvisational material created on stage from a residency in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village leveraging the talents of some of the town’s best progressive musicians. In The Moment (International Anthem Recording Company), originally released at the beginning of 2015, eventually did get its due, landing on a lot of year-end lists for the year.

And now, the release on March 18, 2016 of an expanded, deluxe edition of In The Moment is plenty excuse to rave on this record some more, belatedly within this space.

The very idea of refreshing jazz by infusing it with contemporary styles isn’t new at all and doesn’t always guarantee that the end result is good art. The jazz/hip-hop hybrids have been around for almost as long as hip-hop itself, but often missing in the mixture is the improvisation component. This is where McCraven sets himself apart; for him it all starts on the bandstand, where he and a rotating cast of improvisational prodigies forge grooves together on the fly. Invariably, the band boasts Marquis Hill (trumpet), Jeff Parker (guitar), Junius Paul (basses), Justin “Justefan” Thomas (vibes), Matt Ulery (basses), De’Sean Jones (tenor sax), Tony Barba (tenor sax, electronics) and McCraven himself on drums.

Most tracks consists a groove-laden vamp, and the edits keep them concise; McCraven applies looping and overdubbing pixie dust that stays within the structure of the performance while also adhering to hip-hop principles. How so? Simple, McCraven samples his and his band’s music: the ideas he borrows and recycles are his own.

Hill, Justefan and Parker get most of the upfront spotlights, and they can range from free form jazz to downtempo and many style in-between and stay within the same vibe. While those three do much of the soloing, but McCraven can get mighty creative with his beats such as the smooth rockin’ strut behind Paul’s pulses on “Gnawa” or perhaps the funkiest 11/16 meter you’ll ever hear, on “Three Fifths A Man.” Or the looped cymbal rat-a-tats in between pairs of kick drum booms as Parker drops some atonalities (“Untitled”).

The Deluxe Version adds nine more tracks and forty more minutes on a second CD disc. Called “Sides E&F” (as in, the third vinyl disc), there’s no letup found on these two extra sides. Following eight, relatively short tracks is the longest one of the entire larger album, the fifteen minute epic “The Master.” It begins with a steady snare rim beat, spare guitar and warm vibes tones, moving from that angular vamp to another one, and at one point, McCraven discharges unleashes a dense blizzard of beats while Parker gets avant-garde. And that’s just in the first five minutes of song.

Many cuts feature McCraven addressing the audience dubbed in seemingly at random, and the crowd chatter can clearly be heard in the background at times. The words in and of themselves don’t have much meaning to listeners, but him leaving those salutations and the off-stage sounds in the mix is a constant reminder of the origins of these songs. Even with all the mixing, overdubbing and editing done after the fact, Makaya McCraven retained the energy and impulsiveness of the live performances; indeed, they shape the very character of these songs.

It doesn’t get any more ‘jazz’ than that.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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