Editors’ Notes For a jazz drummer, Makaya McCraven has a rather unorthodox way of making albums. Back in 2014, he began hosting a live-improv series with other like-minded Chicago musicians. “We recorded everything, and I started to just mess with it as samples,” McCraven tells Apple Music. He would pluck out the best parts from those extended jams and, with digital editing software, build entirely new tracks. The result—2015’s aptly titled In the Moment—introduced a style of hip-hop-inspired production that owes as much to Madlib as it does Sun Ra. But it still comes down to that source material. “It’s always about playing with lots of people, in lots of situations, and exploring as many avenues as I can to push me to grow as an artist,” he says.

Culled from what he calls “spontaneous compositions”—recorded live with different ensembles in four cities, then recomposed digitally—Universal Beings, McCraven's third official album, is both a testament to his creative ambitions and a pulse-taking of modern jazz. British tenor heavyweight Shabaka Hutchings, who appears on the Chicago sessions, plays with rhythmic ferocity, while fellow London saxophonist Nubya Garcia offers laidback counterpoint to Ashley Henry’s moody Rhodes piano. "I think they’re coming from more of a groove sensibility,” McCraven says of his London collaborators, some of whom he met literally moments before they took the stage together for these recordings. “A lot of them are tapping into the diverse fabric of the city, with music from the West Indies, Afrobeat, British soul.”

With abundant harp from Brandee Younger and cello from Tomeka Reid, the tracks from New York only hint at conventional jazz idioms, instead leaning more heavily on abstract elements of classical, rock, and R&B. And on the songs made from the LA session at guitarist Jeff Parker’s house, energetic free-jazz flourishes mix with gloriously off-kilter drums and the musicians themselves ruminating on consciousness, happiness, and human potential. When McCraven tells Apple Music, “The music exists in an alternate universe, an alternate reality,” it’s just as much a comment on the album’s sample-based structure as its overarching philosophy.

SONG
A Queen's Intro (feat. Brandee Younger, Tomeka Reid, Dezron Douglas, Joel Ross)
1
0:32
 
Holy Lands (feat. Brandee Younger, Tomeka Reid, Dezron Douglas, Joel Ross)
2
5:14
 
Young Genius (feat. Brandee Younger, Tomeka Reid, Dezron Douglas, Joel Ross)
3
5:32
 
Black Lion (feat. Brandee Younger, Tomeka Reid, Dezron Douglas, Joel Ross)
4
2:56
 
Tall Tales (feat. Brandee Younger, Tomeka Reid, Dezron Douglas, Joel Ross)
5
4:16
 
Mantra (feat. Brandee Younger, Tomeka Reid, Dezron Douglas, Joel Ross)
6
3:48
 
Pharaoh's Intro (feat. Junius Paul, Tomeka Reid, Shabaka Hutchings)
7
1:58
 
Atlantic Black (feat. Junius Paul, Tomeka Reid, Shabaka Hutchings)
8
9:10
 
Inner Flight (feat. Junius Paul, Tomeka Reid, Shabaka Hutchings)
9
3:02
 
Wise Man, Wiser Woman (feat. Junius Paul, Tomeka Reid, Shabaka Hutchings)
10
3:13
 
Prosperity's Fear (feat. Junius Paul, Tomeka Reid, Shabaka Hutchings)
11
6:11
 
Flipped OUT (feat. Nubya Garcia, Ashley Henry, Daniel Casimir)
12
2:40
 
Voila (feat. Nubya Garcia, Ashley Henry, Daniel Casimir)
13
5:00
 
Suite Haus (feat. Nubya Garcia, Ashley Henry, Daniel Casimir)
14
5:09
 
The Newbies Lift Off (feat. Nubya Garcia, Ashley Henry, Daniel Casimir)
15
6:19
 
The Royal Outro (feat. Nubya Garcia, Ashley Henry, Daniel Casimir)
16
1:44
 
The Count Off (feat. Jeff Parker, Anna Butterss, Josh Johnson, Carlos Niño, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson)
17
1:09
 
Butterss's (feat. Jeff Parker, Anna Butterss, Josh Johnson, Carlos Niño, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson)
18
2:59
 
Turtle Tricks (feat. Jeff Parker, Anna Butterss, Josh Johnson, Carlos Niño, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson)
19
4:15
 
The Fifth Monk (feat. Jeff Parker, Anna Butterss, Josh Johnson, Carlos Niño, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson)
20
8:01
 
Brighter Days Beginning (feat. Jeff Parker, Anna Butterss, Josh Johnson, Carlos Niño, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson)
21
2:32
 
Universal Beings (feat. Jeff Parker, Anna Butterss, Josh Johnson, Carlos Niño, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson)
22
4:08