Makaya McCraven ‘In The Moment’ (International Anthem) 4/5

makaya-mccravenIt’s not often that you come across an album that is truly innovative. I would stick my neck out and say this is one of them. Makaya McCraven is a Chicago based drummer, writer, producer and not to put too fine a point on it, innovator. “In The Moment” is a work of art – 48 hours worth of live, improvised music, taken from 28 shows at 1 venue – finely edited and crafted into 19 tracks / 75 minutes on 1 uniquely intimate album. Let’s start with McCraven himself; the more you listen to this album, the more obvious it becomes that you are listening to one incredible musician. His style and sound is unique, a heady, skillful, sophisticated and boldly uncompromising mix of jazz and hip-hop, it’s not stretching it too far to say that he has the same aura about him as did say Jack DeJohnette or Tony Williams when they first came on the scene. His sound is so… musical, his beats and rhythms are tunes within themselves. Forget everything else, just listen to the plethora of ideas that spark from his kit – simply stunning. Throughout the sessions that make up this album, McCraven utilises many guest musicians who all contribute to the tunes – most notably Matt Ulery on electric and double bass, Marquis Hill on trumpet, Justin Thomas on vibraphone and Jeff Parker on guitar. Other musicians include Tony Barba on tenor sax and electronics, Joshua Abrams and Janius Paul on double bass, and DeSean Jones on tenor sax. The music being performed could best be described as soundscapes; an artist sculpting themes and repeating motifs to create an energy, an improvised movement of sound that builds and dissipates and fractures before building itself a world anew. It’s not just the wonder of the live recordings that impress, it’s the fact that McCraven has intelligently and thoughtfully used loops and overdubs, remixed and edited the recordings to successfully blend and piece all the elements together into one coherent whole. Masterful work. The tracks are all primarily based around grooves; some that underpin the theme, some that gradually drive before morphing into something quite different, and others that simply go for it, straight out of the starting blocks. Different instruments at different times throughout the session add to the improvisations, but essentially it’s the drum and bass that everything else hinges on, whether that be structured, melodic, lyrical or free-form. There are undoubtedly elements of “In The Moment” that blow the listener away, not least McCraven’s incredible ability as a drummer. Those who love the idea of improvised grooves and beats, looped and beautifully produced to create soundscapes to lose themselves in will be on a high when they hear this. If however, you like your jazz with more clearly defined tunes and a delicious melody, you may be left thinking how awesome this album could have been, if only McCraven had perhaps pre-composed some of the tunes to allow for a melody to lift things out of the groove and to hear the benefits that some solid, unadulterated soloing would have brought to the party. But then, one could also argue, that wouldn’t have been “In the moment”. Either way, McCraven is proving himself to be an immense talent, promising much for the future.

Mike Gates