Get ready for some more Epic Jazz -- 2018 has been another good year for it, what with Kamasi and all -- it's hot jazz drummer and producer Makaya McCraven with his latest LP 'Universal Beings'. The record was cut at two intimate live sessions and two impromptu studio sessions, in four cities: New York, Chicago, London and L.A. A total of 15 musicians worked with McCraven -- stellar improvisers all -- with Shabaka Hutchings, Nubya Garcia and Jeff Parker being but three of them. Double LP or double CD, on International Anthem Recording Co.
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Fans of jazz LPs with a hundred thousand contributors, rejoice: this ecstatic release from Makaya McCraven is exactly what you want. The first LP from the Chicago drummer and bandleader in a few years, it shows off his talents as they are now: honed and alchemic, a player who intuitive leads surrounding players through the day.
The names just keep coming on this one, including Tortoise’s Jeff Parker and the legendary Carlos Niño, but the appearances are all cumulative: this record is bursting with life, presenting clear, spaciously arranged improvisations that feel endlessly generous in what they reveal. McCraven and his extended rhythm section provide airy grooves for these ornate and often baroque-fused songs to spread out in: harpist Brandee Younger provides melodic vignettes to die for on “Young Genius”, centering the tune around him as players provide adlibs to his improvisation on vibraphone and violin before the song subtly swings itself into a separate groove.
The arrangements and timbres are sublime; in all honesty, it’s an entirely new kinda jazz set-up for me to get my head around, but it never sounds anything but beautiful. As the record goes on it proves McCraven’s interest in experimental and leftfield fusions: the distorted guitar solo of “Wise Man, Wiser Woman” feels joyously proggy, kept dusty and low-key by a gorgeously breathy sax improvisation. The record is massive, and over its double LP course swells with genre affections and excitable ideas. It's a modern jazz retooling that is absolutely not to be missed.
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