Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Album Review: Makaya McCraven - In These Times

Makaya McCraven
In These Times
**** out of *****

Makaya McCraven has already established a strong foothold in the modern jazz scene and In These Times continues his ascent with a kaleidoscope of sounds around a thematic core.

The album was recorded back over seven years in 5 different studios and 4 live performance spaces, but that was not the finished product. McCraven then engaged in extensive post-production work from home to sonically weave the tapestries together. The end result is a strong collection of what McCraven calls his edit-heavy “organic beat music”, there are stops and starts, tons of sounds yet the project plays like a cohesive whole. 

The opening title track is the most extended offering starting with sampled socially conscious lyrics/recordings about continuing the struggle for equality with drums setting the scene. Things quickly expand to include harps, flutes, sax, and digital laser-like blasts shooting in; all of this is secondary to the almighty groove. 

That groove is the backbone of the album such as the percussion and drum lead on "High Fives" or the hip hop ready slapping snare on the smooth funk of "Dream Another", the most straight ahead, funky soul track here. The harp strummed, string showcased "Lullaby" eases in with hip swaying ballroom dance appeal while the brief trumpet and string swells of "The Calling" are pleasant, but it is the get down rhythmic jazz efforts like "This Place That Place" where McCraven does his best work. 

Top notch speakers bring out so many of the sounds McCraven and company have recorded here. "The Fours" has strings of all sorts being plucked and strummed resulting in a frantic sound at the edges but uses pulsing bass popping and beats to craft a welcoming center. The propulsive beats are all over the map during "Seventh String" but stay aloof and never interfere with the soothing strings and sounds floating on top; a neat trick. 

Pianos and skittering beats starts "The Knew Untitled" with an ominous feel as the track swells with hope and rising instrumentation, complete with guitar solo and deep bass, flowing directly into the finale "The Title" which expertly ties back in the intro title track. Even with those great efforts "So Ubuji" just may be the best of the bunch as McCraven takes his jazz into a hip hop realm via African percussion and sounds, resulting in an illuminating beat any enterprising MC would be lucky to tackle.  

The group that contributed to this album over the years is a big one consisting of McCraven a jack of all trades who plays drums, sampler, percussion, tambourine, baby sitar, synths, kalimba, handclaps, vibraphone, wurlitzer, organ, accompanied by Junius Paul - double bass, percussion, electric bass guitar, small instruments Jeff Parker - guitar Brandee Younger - harp Joel Ross - vibraphone, marimba Marta Sofia Honer - viola Lia Kohl - cello Macie Stewart - violin Zara Zaharieva - violin Greg Ward - alto sax Irvin Pierce - tenor sax Marquis Hill - trumpet, flugelhorn Greg Spero - piano Rob Clearfield - piano Matt Gold - guitar, percussion, baby sitar and De’Sean Jones - flute. 

All contributors have their place but this is McCraven's showcase; if jazz fans were unaware of this Chicago based artist talent previously, In These Times will change that. A strong modern jazz sound that works on a variety of levels In These Times is RtBE's favorite jazz album of 2022. 
Support the artist, buy the album and peep some video below:

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