Makaya McCraven’s mixtape is the product of an activist’s intuition, bringing together the brightest stars of the time between Chicago and London. How do we explain this meeting of two cities’ scenes if not via the buzz around each? Host to the locals on their turf, Makaya McCraven was surrounded by young English treasures (Joe Armon-Jones, Nubya Garcia, Theon Cross, Kamaal Williams, Emma Jean-Thackray) for two concerts at the TRC. Once recorded, they then placed the Chicago drummer in his current role of sampling live music to make a record. Makaya extracted the essence from the raw material. With more finesse in the composition and less loaded bass, “Where We Come From” would have been a must. Here, we like it even with its faults; a passionate, energetic scene before which we swoon without thinking. When you first hear it, it’s bliss, the new Eldorado. Then there’s some doubt. But even so, there is admiration and the need to judge it according to the rules that it has set for itself. In an interlude, there is an excerpt from when Makaya takes the floor during the concert at the TRC – “This is spontaneous composition, so we don’t know what’s going on.” He calls that an exploration. It’s as if they had met by accident and were playing, just like that, to see how it would go. The magic isn’t always there, but it’s waiting just outside the door for the developing talents. Makaya Mccraven does not navigate either in the introspection of the meticulous repertoire nor in the improvised revisiting of the standards. His beats speak to a generation raised on hip hop, J Dilla, and big basses and move away from yet another tribute to the golden age of boom bap.
As with hip hop, jazz’s forms are still evolving. A vehicle of these modulations, Makaya is a unique specimen in every era, whose mark we can also recognize. Here, he is surrounded, among others, by the superbly flawless sound of Nubya Garcia on saxophone (“The Oracle”), Joe Armon-Jones’s enlightened accompaniment and lively solos on Fender Rhodes (“Run ‘Dem”) and the enthusiasm of Theon Cross, the trombonist who is more often a bassist (“Ox Tales”). The beat scientist has struck again.