Something about drummer/producer Makaya McCraven’s aesthetic always seems to come off as gritty. Sure, his latest album, Highly Rare, was recorded live to 4-track tape in a Chicago dive bar, but it’s not like that same rawness hasn’t always been there in his previous albums. It’s not like his style on the kit isn’t always fascinating and captivating. It’s not like even his beat tape, Split Decision, isn’t still the fuzzy jam. The man is a marvel, not just because of his proficiency but also because of his not being afraid to let the grittiness of the sound be an extra bit of texture, and texture is definitely something Highly Rare has in spades.
In the same vein as his 2015 album (and a personal favorite of mine), In the Moment, McCraven has re-edited, layered, looped, and rearranged his November 2016 improvised set live from Chicago’s Danny’s Tavern to release this new creation full of life and vitality. McCraven has proven that he is a master at wrangling the freely improvised set, finding a group of collaborators who can find and extend that sense of groove. The interplay between alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella and cornetist Ben Lamar Gay over McCraven and bassist Junius Paul’s rhythm section dealt in a magical realm that night.
“The Locator” is a hypnotic jam, rooted in hip hop and featuring a tasty drum solo from McCraven that is literally a crowd pleaser. “Above & Beyond” is an astounding amount of fun, a banger harder than most things out there in the world. There are moments when it feels exactly in line with the beats on Split Decision, it’s such a fluid jam for its first section, but the chorus part goes extra hard. “Left Fields” is an eleven and a half-minute journey to the center of the awesome. It’s a grand song that builds perfectly.
Once again, Makaya McCraven has proven he can create in the moment and then, using every part of the buffalo, recreate a fleeting moment into something even greater and even more permanent, all while giving homage to that passing moment in time through the addition of that aforementioned grittiness. These songs were spontaneously improvised, recorded on cassette, released initially on cassette, and now are here digitally in all their lo-fi splendor. It’s music acknowledging its temporal nature while still extending its reach and influence on the world. That’s a lot for a night in Chicago. That takes grit.
Highly Rare, the latest mixtape from drummer/producer Makaya McCraven, is out now on International Anthem.
Makaya McCraven – drums, producer & arranger
Junius Paul – bass guitar
Nick Mazzarella – alto saxophone
Ben Lamar Gay – cornet, diddley bow, voice
with cameos by
Gira Dahnee – background voice
LeFtO – turntables
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.