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In early December the folks behind Uncanned Music—which over the last few years has programmed jazz and improvised music concerts and DJ sets at loads of venues around town, including the Bedford, Trencherman, Plein Air Cafe, Bar DeVille, and Sportsman's Club, among others—will release Alternate Moon Cycles by cornetist Rob Mazurek, the first title on its newly formed International Anthem label. The show promoters have been actively recording most of the concerts they've presented recently, and now they're putting that music out there. The label's second release, due early next year (January 20, to be precise), is In the Moment by drummer Makaya McCraven, a 19-track album culled from almost 48 hours of material recorded as part of a weekly residence at the Bedford.
McCraven invited a revolving cast of collaborators to improvise each week, making all of the music from scratch every time. There is no shortage of all-improvised music events happening in Chicago, but many of them focus on so-called nonidiomatic free improvisation, where the players eschew conventional notions of melody, harmony, and rhythm in search of something decidedly abstract and new. McCraven seemed to be after something different, at least based on the results turning up on In the Moment, which are unabashedly groove oriented. The drummer meticulously edited and remixed the raw material; you can hear looped passages, bit of room ambience or dialogue reused and jiggered into different pieces, so that the jazz-driven sensibilities of his collaborators are transformed into something that occasionally sounds closer to instrumental hip-hop or taut funk. Among the players that joined the drummer over the course of the residency are bassists Matt Ulery, Joshua Abrams, and Junius Paul, trumpeter Marquis Hill, guitarist Jeff Parker, vibist Justin Thomas, and tenor saxophonists De'Sean Jones and Tony Barba.
McCraven has established his skills and bona fides as one of the city's most skilled and flexible jazz percussionists, but here he demonstrates remarkable talents as a producer too. There are certainly numerous tracks here that focus on deep, head-nodding grooves, but the choices he made in what to include and how to assemble it deliver something much more than just chill beats for heads. Naturally some of that credit belongs to the folks who played with him—musicians who can create lines or melodic shapes out of thin air that feel so indelible and memorable that they could easily function as compositions on their own. There's a short track called "The Drop" that combines heavy, stuttering drum beats (playing ever-shifting patterns), a kind of hydroplaning guitar part played by Parker, and a loping bass line from Abrams that almost feels like a lost Ethiopian jam, while "Gnawa" sounds like J Dilla jamming with traditional Moroccan musicians.
Today I'm pleased to premiere a track from the forthcoming album. "Three Fifths a Man," which you can hear below, features Parker, Paul, Hill, and Thomas, with a typically excellent, probing solo from the guitarist leading into an elegant statement from the trumpeter that builds from pointillistic jabs into a hypnotic constellation resolved with a terse postbop dollop of melody. The track concludes with a phrase spoken by McCraven that turns up a few times throughout the record: "That basically means we're just making shit up." Technically that sentiment might be true, but one listen suggests he's being far too modest.
McCraven performs tonight with New York trombonist Ryan Keberle and tomorrow night with his own band featuring Thomas, Paul, and Hill. Both shows are at Constellation. See a video shot by Peter Holderness of Thursday night's show below.
Philip Jeck, Suite: Live in Liverpool (Autofact/Touch)
Ernesto Cervini Quartet, There (Anzic)
Young Marble Giants, Colossal Youth & Collected Works (Domino)
Tune-Yards, Whokill (4AD)
Barn Owl and the Infinite Strings Ensemble, The Headlands (Important)