Makaya McCraven is a name synonymous with Chicago Jazz – at least, modern Chicago Jazz.
The drummer and producer has made a name for himself over the last ten years, becoming a pillar of the Chicago jazz community, as well as branching out all over the world (check out his album Universal Beings, where instead of sides being labeled “A” or “1”, they’re denoted by what city they were recorded in). This fall saw the release of his newest record, In These Times, on beloved label International Anthem.
Beginning with 2015’s live album In The Moment, McCraven has continuously pushed the boundaries of jazz, all the while featuring legendary Chicago jazz players as well as showcasing up-and-comers. In These Times features the likes of Jeff Parker, Junius Paul, Marquis Hill, Matt Gold, and many more immediately recognizable names for fans of Chicago’s contemporary jazz scene.
Despite McCraven’s star-studded recordings, there’s no mistaking his compositions. Laden with samples, hypnotic riffs swing in and out of the tunes, with McCraven’s drumming highlighting and enhancing his band members’ playing, rather than taking center stage. There are parts of this record that almost lean into hip-hop beatmaking (McCraven has referred to himself as a Beat Scientist multiple times). For instance, the first half of the title track sounds like something Madlib would produce for Freddie Gibbs to rap on, before the song goes double time and a killer tenor sax solo emerges.
Throughout the 40 minute album, I was constantly reminded of Makaya’s great live show at The Salt Shed last year. This record, along with the show, seems more like a conversation between musicians and collaborators than a bandleader instructing the musicians. This is what I love about Makaya’s music, and almost all music that is inherently collaborative; we’re not enjoying an album from one person. This is a snapshot of the Chicago jazz underground in 2022, and all these players come together to make a beautiful and powerful statement.