FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
With his new remix album, Deciphering The Message, the Chicago-based drummer, producer, and beat scientist Makaya McCraven puts a modern bounce on Blue Note classics by Art Blakey, Horace Silver, and Hank Mobley, among others. Today, McCraven has unveiled the album’s fourth and final single “Black Rhythm Happening,” which is a funky remake of the title track of a 1969 album by the adventurous trumpeter and Sun Ra associate Eddie Gale. Deciphering The Message will be released November 19 on vinyl, CD, and digital download. Stream the playlist Deciphering The Message: The Originals.
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. 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.”
Across numerous albums and mixtapes, McCraven has proven his mastery of the loop akin to hip-hop’s most celebrated beatmakers like Madlib and J Dilla, both of whom also found inspiration in the Blue Note catalog. With acclaimed releases like In The Moment (2015) and Universal Beings (2018), McCraven created his own lane in jazz by sampling his band playing improvised sessions throughout the world, then molding the audio several times to pull contrasting moods from it. For his previous project McCraven remixed Gil Scott-Heron’s final album I’m New Here into the equally emotive LP We’re New Again (2020).
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Across numerous albums and mixtapes, Makaya McCraven has proven his mastery of the loop. His practice resembles that of hip-hop’s most celebrated beatmakers—J Dilla, Madlib and the like—but where their music excavates obscure sounds from the past, McCraven, a Chicago-based drummer and producer, samples himself, playing improvised sessions throughout the world, then molding the audio several times to pull contrasting moods from it. “And then we can pass it onto another person who can flip that,” he said in 2020’s Universal Beings documentary. “And then that could be re-flipped… I like to find more creative ways to pull a fifth or six dimension out of the music.” Not only has this process afforded McCraven his own lane in jazz, it’s made him a star amongst those with an affinity for rap and ambient as well. With his new remix album, Deciphering The Message, McCraven digs through the annals of the famed Blue Note Records to put new spins on Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Clifford Brown, Dexter Gordon, Kenny Dorham, and Eddie Gale, among others.
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.”
Makaya McCraven | Deciphering The Message | Release Date: October 15, 2021