Deciphering The Message Makaya McCraven

Album info



Label: Blue Note Records

Genre: Jazz

Subgenre: Modern Jazz

Artist: Makaya McCraven

Album including Album cover

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  • 1A Slice Of The Top03:12
  • 2Sunset03:48
  • 3When Your Lover Has Gone02:11
  • 4Ecaroh02:57
  • 5Tranquillity03:39
  • 6Wail Bait02:09
  • 7Coppin' The Haven02:35
  • 8Frank's Tune03:37
  • 9Autumn In New York05:55
  • 10Monaco02:24
  • 11Mr. Jin02:57
  • 12C.F.D.03:17
  • 13Black Rhythm Happening03:34
  • Total Runtime42:15

Info for Deciphering The Message

McCraven comes to this project having remixed Gil Scott-Heron’s final album, 2010’s I’m New Here, into an equally emotive LP titled We’re New Again that reimagined the poet’s wrestling with loss, daily existence and regret. Though Scott-Heron’s distinctive baritone remained the focal point, McCraven crafted an album closer to the vocalist’s natural aesthetic of soul and jazz. For Deciphering The Message, McCraven wanted to maintain the integrity of Blue Note’s original music, but with a modern bounce, appealing to those who might only know the label from their grandparents’ old vinyl collection.

Yet these artists weren’t always legends; on purpose, McCraven catches them on their way up. “I wanted to focus on a little bit of the older catalog and a certain era,” he says. “From the beginning, I was inspired by this idea of these young musicians going through the bands, almost like a rite of passage.” In those days, it was common to hear these artists play similar melodies in different groups across various records and put their own spin on the genre’s standards. McCraven wanted to explore the concept of sampling within the scope of traditional jazz. “To me, it’s all part of a broader thread,” he says. “I picked tracks that were speaking to me, but it all came together in that way.”

While Deciphering The Message collects songs from several years of Blue Note history, it plays like a continuous set taking place in one show at one venue. “Pee Wee” Marquette, Birdland Jazz Club’s master of ceremonies from 1949 to 1965, narrates this album, and his inclusion places the LP somewhere on the timeline between jazz music’s transition from bebop to hard bop. There’s a prevalent cool to this album, which won’t surprise anyone who’s followed McCraven’s work to this point. But where the records In The Moment and Universal Beings captured what was happening in more recent landscapes, this one scores the period that informs McCraven’s art. This juxtaposition is most prevalent on “Tranquillity” (AKA “Corner of the World”) where, following a sampled intro from Marquette, McCraven comes in with contemporary drum taps and layered horns that pull Bobby Hutcherson’s “Tranquillity”—from the vibraphonist’s 1965 album Components—into this century.

Elsewhere, pianist Jack Wilson’s hard bop cut “Frank’s Tune”—from 1967’s Easterly Winds—is remade into “De’Jeff’s Tune,” an ‘80s R&B-inspired arrangement with a two-stepping dance groove, wafting guitar chords courtesy of Jeff Parker, and delicate flute from De’Sean Jones. Another gem of this set is “Autumn In New York” (AKA “Spring In Chicago”), an almost-six-minute triumph that shifts Kenny Burrell’s original—from the guitarist’s 1958 album Blue Lights, Vol. 1—from a sauntering romantic ballad to a hypnotic stomp of muted horns and soft vibes, perfectly capturing a walk around Lake Michigan. With the song “A Slice Of The Top” (AKA “Sliced Off The Top”)—a remake of the title track from a 1966 Hank Mobley session—McCraven traded the solos between the saxophonist and trumpeter Lee Morgan and put more pronounced drums on top of the mix. “When piecing everything together, I wanted to create a narrative that made the listener feel like they were falling into this space or a movement,” McCraven says. “I was really trying to make a record out of it, not just a series of tracks.”

McCraven started compiling the album at the beginning of 2020, before the onset of COVID-19. “We were gonna do some big concerts and touring,” he remembers, “and I started sampling things and conceiving some of the process because I wanted to take some time with it.” Once the pandemic hit, and concerts and travel were shut down, he took some time away and relocated with his family to Hawaii. There, he picked the tracks he wanted to reimagine and finished the record back in Chicago, where he reconnected with his go-to team of musicians and added new live elements to these classic songs. McCraven has always been a collaborative artist who prefers the energy of in-person sessions over the isolation of creating alone. That’s no different here: Deciphering The Message features vibraphonist Joel Ross, trumpeter Marquis Hill, alto saxophonist Greg Ward, guitarists Matt Gold and Jeff Parker, bassist Junius Paul, and De’Sean Jones on tenor saxophone and flute. “There’s a comradery and social aspect to the music,” McCraven says of this album and his creative method overall. “To me that’s inspiring and in the spirit of collaboration. There are bandleaders, but the collective of individual voices and sounds and the way they influence each other, that’s the fabric of what makes a scene.”

In that way, Deciphering The Message connects the past and present, proving that musicians become legends by trekking the same roads with like-minded creators all moving toward the same goal. The cohort of McCraven, Parker, Paul, Ross and Hill is no different than, say, Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, which aimed to simply create good music—that it became cornerstone art was a plus. To that end, McCraven hopes the album is both educational and an outright good listen. “I always want to make music that will connect with people in one way, where it makes them nod or feel something or transport them somewhere,” he says. “I also hope this makes them check out the source of this music if they have it. The music that we’re making now is part of the same route and is connected, so I want to honor tradition and release something that people can vibe to.”

"There are 13 such experiments in all here—from a trippy “Autumn in New York” that originated on a Kenny Burrell title to Clifford Brown as you’ve never imagined him—each an impressively reconfigured pastiche." (Jeff Tamarkin, JazzTimes)

Makaya McCraven, drums, bass, keyboards, percussion
Jeff Parker, guitar
De'Sean Jones, flute
Marquis Hill, trumpet
Matt Gold, guitar
Junius Paul, bass
Jack Wilson, piano
Lee Morgan, trumpet
Garnett Brown, trombone
Jackie McLean, alto saxophone
Bob Cranshaw, bass
Billy Higgins, drums
Art Blakey, spoken Word
Joel Ross, vibraphone

Makaya McCraven
is a b​ eat scientist.​ The cutting edge drummer, producer, and sonic collagist is a multi-talented force whose inventive creative process & intuitive style of performance defy categorization.

Called “a sound visionary” ( who is “not your everyday jazz drummer” (, McCraven brilliantly moves between genres and pushes the boundaries of jazz and rhythm to create forms of his own.

“You are listening to one incredible musician. His style and sound is unique, a heady, skillful, sophisticated and boldly uncompromising mix of jazz and hip hop...” (UK Vibe)

His breakthrough album I​ n the Moment​ was released with International Anthem Recording Co. (IARC) in January of 2015 and quickly named “Album of the Week” on BBC 6 Radio by influential DJ Gilles Peterson. By the end of the year it was a “Best of 2015” selection for Los Angeles Times, Pop Matters, NPR Music’s Jazz Critics Poll, and Apple Music. In 2016, I​ n The Moment​ was hailed by Turntable Lab as “one of the most important recordings to date in the modern Jazz world.” ​In The Moment​ was a dramatic statement by McCraven, where he debuted a unique brand of “organic beat music” that quickly launched him into the vanguard of not only Internationally-known jazz artists, but also a niche genre of next-wave composer-producers blurring the boundaries of jazz & electronic music.

“While Teo Macero’s work with Miles [Davis] might seem the obvious reference point, I​ n The Moment​ is closer in spirit to Madlib and J Dilla.” (WIRE Magazine)

Born in Paris, France in 1983 to jazz drummer Stephen McCraven (Sam Rivers, Archie Shepp) and Hungarian singer Agnes Zsigmondi, McCraven was exposed to broad ranges of influences from a young age. At age 3, in 1986 his family moved to the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachussetts, a time and place that afforded him the mentorship of his parents’ community of friends and collaborators, which included jazz luminaries Marion Brown, Archie Shepp and Yusef Lateef.

His earliest gig memories include playing alongside students in his father’s drum ensemble, the CMSS Bashers, at age five and in middle school forming a band with friends to backup his mother’s Jewish folk songs. In high school, McCraven cofounded Cold Duck Complex, a jazz hip hop band that developed a strong following in the American Northeast, opening for acts like Wu-Tang Clan, Rhazel, Digable Planets, The Pharcyde, Mixmaster Mike, and The Wailers. McCraven stayed close to home (and his working band) to study music at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, but prioritized the development of his professional music career, and never completed his degree.

In 2007 he made a move to Chicago, where he immersed himself in the city’s gigging and creative music scenes. Through years of hard work and deepening kinships with artists from both ends (straight ahead & avant garde) of Chicago’s jazz scene, by 2012 he had “established himself as one of the city’s most versatile and in-demand drummers” (Chicago Reader) doing regular sideman gigs for Bobby Broom, Corey Wilkes, Willie Pickens, Occidental Brothers, Marquis Hill, Jeff Parker, and others. And by January of 2015, he had recorded and released his International Anthem debut ​In The Moment.​

The critical and communal reception of I​ n The Moment​ led to greater breakthroughs in the live setting for McCraven, including a historic co-headlining Chicago performance with Kamasi Washington in Fall of 2015 and a major showing at the New York City Winter Jazz Festival in January of 2016, where he was named a “Top 5 Artist to Watch” by both NPR and Billboard, and garnered glowing reviews from the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Downbeat Magazine. Afterwards he signed with European booking agency Good Music Company and spent most of 2016 touring the European circuit, capped off by a London Jazz Festival set broadcast live on Boiler Room TV in November of 2016.

McCraven went on to put out his first DJ-style mixtape ​Highly Rare​ (IARC) in 2017, which was produced from a single live performance in Chicago, and eventually hailed as one of the “Best Albums of 2017” by The New York Times. Also in 2017, he began production of a second mixtape made from live recordings captured at a legendary 2-night showcase in London, where Makaya performed with artists from the UK jazz scene. Just months after the showcase was nominated for “Live Experience of the Year” by UK’s JazzFM awards, Makaya released the mixtape – ​Where We Come From (CHICAGOxLONDON Mixtape) –​ which featured his own production intertwined with remixes by other producers. In Will Schube’s words in his “Passion of the Weiss” feature:

“Makaya McCraven is a Chicago staple, owing some of his rise to the city’s fervent jazz community, but with ​Where We Come From,​ McCraven and his band have transcended locale. Jazz belongs to the world, it exists wherever we come from.”

McCraven has toured nationally and internationally, and produced 4 critically acclaimed releases as a lead artist in the last 4 years. Yet despite the performances and accolades, McCraven’s focus remains on both creating music and moving the culture forward. “As a person of mixed race, nationality, and ethnicity I want my identity and contributions to paint a world not bound by genre, race or national boundaries but unified through a love of music culture and community. Tethered by legacies of the past but looking towards a new, more universal future.”

Makaya continues the development of his “organic beat music” as well as the work of (what Schube described as) “transcending locale” on his most recent release ​Universal Beings​. A 2xLP album that was recorded at 4 sessions in New York, Chicago, London & Los Angeles, Universal Beings​ features an A-list of “new” jazz players from those hotbed cities: Brandee Younger, Tomeka Reid, Dezron Douglas, Joel Ross, Shabaka Hutchings, Junius Paul, Nubya Garcia, Daniel Casimir, Ashley Henry, Josh Johnson, Jeff Parker, Anna Butters, Carlos Niño and Miguel-Atwood Ferguson.

This album contains no booklet.

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