Musician and producer Makaya McCraven has been garnering critical acclaim for his 2015 release, “In the Moment,” which urged music critics to proclaim that the (currently) Chicago-based musician was a part of the city’s new jazz Renaissance. But with McCraven’s new release, “Universal Beings,” he makes a very poignant statement about how the location of where music is made has very little to do with the potency or music scene of one community.
“Universal Beings” is a lengthy improvisational album that features some of the world’s best jazz and creative music players to date. With contributions from Carlos Niño, Brandee Younger, Shabaka Hutchings, Tomeka Reid and others, the album is a manifestation of McCraven’s ethos of navigating within a borderless, noncompetitive contemporary music community.
I spoke with the internationally respected artist via phone about his new album and his experience of how he creates his music and why.
AmNews: Your new album, “Universal Beings,” is broken up into for suites or “sides” as you’ve called them. All four sessions were recorded with different musicians in different cities. How long did it take you to compile all of the music?
McCraven: I’d have to look up when the first session we did in Chicago was. It took around a year to do all of the session and to do all of the editing and compiling of the material to put together this concept of this project.
AmNews: Why did you choose to do the sessions in New York, London, Chicago and Los Angeles?
McCraven: “In the Moment” was the first record that I did that gave me this type of attention was [recorded] all in one location, and different musicians were coming through the location. I had a cast of musicians based in Chicago, who, many of them were doing a lot of stuff internationally, and I defined as a “Chicago musician.” I’ve been in Chicago for 12 years, but I never really thought of myself as from Chicago, and if a lot of the deep Chicago cats would hear me say, “I’m from Chicago,” they would say, “Man, you’re not from Chicago.” I really appreciate the community here. I from the East Coast, and knew a lot of New York musicians, and started bumping into all these London jazz musicians, and L.A. was poppin’ off.
And there were the all these articles starting to come out saying, “West Coast is the best coast.” Then Rolling Stone would say, “The London jazz scene is the scene that is revitalizing jazz,” and New York has always been at the forefront of the press. Then there was all this attention coming to me saying, “Chicago is the new face of the jazz Renaissance,” and my idea wasn’t really into any of that.
I didn’t want to be centralized of having an alliance with Chicago. We’re part of a global music community in a global movement. I think it’s all part of something that’s bigger than just one scene. There’s no one epicenter of the music community. I wanted to represent something that’s about a larger culture. It’s bigger than national and international borders. There are incredible local communities with incredible artists [everywhere] that have unique scenes and personalities. I wanted to shine a light on that as well as get a chance to play with all the different musicians and friends that I’ve made along the way.
AmNews: Did you call your album “Universal Beings” as a rebellion toward pinpointing one epicenter for jazz and creative music?
McCraven: In a sense. “Universal Beings” is definitely pointing to the idea of connectivity of people, and really getting into [the idea that] the music is bigger than our differences. I didn’t coin the term, it was Carlos Niño in the session in L.A. We were talking about life and ideas, and how to just function in the world as a positive force in this crazy world. He said that he was trying to get to a place of being connected and being like a universal being. I really liked that. It encapsulated how I feel about being able to travel the world and play with musicians all over the world and connect different audiences and connect with people through music. And on a more personal note, [connect with] musicians despite being from different scenes within the folds of the contemporary music movement we all can show up together in any city, not having met or having played together, and we can create something that’s magical and special. And that’s real.
I believe this stuff. This is actually in practice, my life. My mother is a musician from Hungary, my father is a musician from the states and they met in Paris. I was born in Paris. I grew up in a socio-economically diverse, racially diverse, nationally diverse family. That’s the life I know.