This cat is not your everyday jazz drummer. Molded in his youth by hip hop and funk, Makaya McCraven is known for seamlessly traveling between genres in his playing and writing. A producer as well as a drummer, McCraven masterfully pieces together 48 hours of live performances into 19 groove-centric tracks on his latest album, In the Moment. The last track on this album, “Finances,” is an excellent example of beat-making and jazz virtuosity. You might as well start bopping your head now, because this track is dope.
The idea of groove-centric modern jazz music can be found in the writing and playing of jazz superstars such as Chris Potter, as well as younger cats like Taylor McFerrin. Approximately the first two minutes of this tune are comprised of McCraven building the beat, using a relatively straightforward drum pattern, guitar, saxophone, and other electronic sounds. At the very beginning, we hear some of the original live sounds, and then we hear McCraven’s breakdown of these elements and subsequent manipulation and rearrangement of them. Over those first two minutes, the general sound of the beat never seems to stay exactly the same as different sounds are added and taken away, which makes this track an especially suspenseful one.
This suspense is not meaningless, either. The beat gives way to a blazing tenor saxophone solo, followed by a drum solo. All of this is happening with the elements from the initial beat present in the background, in addition to a few newly prominent sounds, such as vibraphone and new tenor saxophone parts. There is always something adventurous going on with this track, some new sound coming in and some other sound leaving temporarily. The extended instrumental solos are not familiar facets of a hip hop song, but for McCraven, it is the height of the song.
The use of electronic instruments and mixing and looping technology are not new to the jazz world. Popular examples can be found in the work of past artists such as Miles Davis. The blending of jazz and hip hop is not a novel venture either. Examples of that can be found in genres like acid jazz from 20 to 30 years ago. What is significant about this record is the following: We have arrived at a point where the union of jazz and hip hop is becoming more and more prominent and respected. The heavy-hitters of the jazz world, those who have recently come of age and started to have a significant impact on the jazz scene, are men and women who grew up in the hip hop world. No longer are we seeing jazz musicians experimenting with a new genre (hip hop) that they find interesting (or vice versa). Now what we’re seeing are jazz musicians who were heavily influenced by hip hop in their most formative years, just as much as they were influenced by jazz or any other genre. This creates a different kind of music. These cats aren’t “blending” jazz and hip hop; for them, these genres are inseparable. They can’t play one without playing the other.