Makaya McCraven is one of the most intriguing artists/composers working in jazz today. His jazz chops combined with his Teo Macero cut n paste arrangements have given me(and the rest of the world) something to look forward to every time he drops a new album. Albums like In The Moment, Highly Rare, and Universal Beings live in rarified air in that they encompass everything that jazz stands for while locking into next level production and hip hop vibes.
On McCraven’s newest album Deciphering The Message Blue Note Records gave him the keys to the Blue Note vault for some re-imaginging magic. Over the course of 13 tracks Makaya McCraven, along with some of jazz music’s most forward-thinking musicians working today, give classics from Art Blakey, Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley, Horace Silver, and many more a new spin. McCraven chose early tracks from these giants, wanting to show them as they were young and coming up. Adding new instrumentation with the likes of Joel Ross, Jeff Parker, and Junius Paul to name a few, McCraven adds new life to these already shining jazz classics.
While Makaya McCraven is known as a jazz drummer, he works more like a hip hop producer. Madlib and J Dilla come to mind, but he also locks into the great Teo Macero as well. Much like Macero did with Miles Davis’ Columbia sessions in the late 60s/early 70s, McCraven takes these classic tracks and melds them with new instrumentation creating something completely new. A mad scientist cutting and pasting songs into all new musical beasts.
There’s not a bad spot on this album; from the bluesy sway of “Sunset” to the dreamy, almost trip-hop feel of “Tranquility” to the flute driven funk of “Frank’s Tune” McCraven builds a consistently amazing listening experience. “Autumn In New York” takes you right to the brisk sidewalks of the upper west side, while the breezy “C.F.D.” puts me in mind of Madlib’s handiwork from his turn at re-imagining the Blue Note catalog on Shades Of Blue.
Deciphering The Message is a fantastic voyage into the world of jazz, Blue Note Records, and of course the masterful production and imagination of Makaya McCraven. The casual jazz fan will find much to love, while the devout jazz listener will find much to devour at every listen.