We’re New Again is a reworking of Gil Scott-heron’s final album, I’m New Here, by jazz musician Makaya McCraven. Makaya’s principal instrument is the drums but he can turn his hand to production too, so getting stuck into this was right up his street. I’m New Here has already been given an alternative spin when Jamie xx remixed it in 2011. This jazz take is most intriguing.
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I can’t imagine working with Gil Scott-Heron’s now ten year old ‘I’m New Here’. That record is bracingly personal in a way so few albums are. Scott-Heron digs deep into his childhood, his death, and the women who raised him. It was produced by XL head honcho Richard Russell, in that very XL sounding soul style that Russell has elaborated on as Everything Is Recorded. And if that style isn’t for you, I have good news. That album was followed by a Jamie xx reimagining in ‘We’re New Here’ and now ‘We’re New Again’ from genius jazz drummer and producer Makaya McCraven.
McCraven has built his career on edits; ‘In The Moment’ is two hours of music culled from 48, ‘Where We Come From’ remixes two nights in London, so he very much has the pedigree to turn his sights to ‘I’m New Here’. Under his guidance, Scott-Heron’s vocals slot perfectly naturally into his beats driven jazz. The instrumentals on the original ‘Running’ are sparse to the point of vanishing, McCraven’s version features a big and insistent beat that changes feel of its lyrics about running, but “not away, because there is no such place”.
Elsewhere ‘Blessed Parents’ is all whirring and intense free jazz with dueling saxes over loose piano chords, and ‘The Crutch’ is transformed into a sax-lead funk stomper. Perhaps the best transformation is ‘New York You're Killing Me’. The original is just Scott-Heron and some clapping, but McCraven turns it into something more chaotic and almost triumphant with a latin groove and backing vocals.
His previous records have seen McCraven tackling the work of him and his friends. ‘We’re New Again’ provided him the perfect framework to work outside of that bubble. And to offer a wonderful memorial to one of the greats.
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