Makaya McCraven is a pivotal figure in 21st century jazz, not only due to his abilities as a musician, but also his unerring ability to nurture community around him. A dominant voice in modern improvisatory music, he works continuously, linking up with musicians around the globe.
If his catalogue can seem vast, and hard to fully penetrate, then ‘In These Times’ acts as a sort of ad hoc summation of some of his returning passions and touchstones. Recorded over a seven-year span, it features some of his regular band mates – the gilded lights of Chicago’s avant-garde scene are fully represented – in a format that is open, inviting, and beatific.
It opens with the title track – or to be more accurate, the applause that leads in to the title performance. ‘In These Times’ has the feel of an athlete stretching out their legs, an ensemble learning how to glue itself together. ‘The Fours’ has a slumped hip-hop beat to it, the horn undulations orbiting Dilla-influenced programming. ‘High Fives’ meanwhile is more overtly melodic, the elastic bass working against Brandee Younger’s divine harp lines – an instrument that comes sublimely to the fore on the accurately-titled ‘Lullaby’.
‘The Calling’ is a brief sojourn, all patient layers and atmosphere, while ‘Seventh String’ becomes a showcase for Jeff Parker’s instantly-recognisable guitar playing, so pointed, oblique, and yet also welcoming. ‘The Knew Untitled’ transforms those stuttering rhythms into something truly gorgeous, before closing statement ‘The Title’ brings the full ensemble together, testament both to McCraven’s singular vision and the manner in which improvisatory music can break down individual ego.
A challenging yet continually beautiful project, ‘In These Times’ contains a terrific sense of unity, one that belies the lengthy manner of its gestation. An ode to community, it’s a record that carries a very special charm.
Words: Robin Murray