Makaya McCraven: Split Decision (2012)
Drummer Makaya McCraven supposedly "thinks about rhythm last" when composing, yet his music is all about rhythmic perspicacity. McCraven, who was born in Paris, spent his formative years in Massachusetts and eventually uprooted himself to move to Chicago, uses rhythm as a thickening agent, call to arms, catalyst and continual game changer, throughout this engaging debut.
McCraven put together a piano trio for his first leader date, but he doesn't make the same old piano trio music. This is no take on standards with sparkling cocktail party élan or loose, amorphous three-way conversation. This is music made by a 21st century man who sees no need to suppress his hip hop chops or rock spirit in an effort to fit in and be dubbed a jazz drummer. McCraven marries his love for music other than jazz with a more jazz-oriented spirit built around in-the-moment, improvisational cunning and driving grooves throughout this program of original music.
Kaleidoscopic shifts in rhythmic construction serve as an entryway into the album ("Split Decision") and mark the leader as a savvy stick wielder and composer from the get-go. The trio immediately creates a modus operandi built around contrasting spacious sections of music with stimuli-filled episodes that are brimming with rhythmic vitality. They prove that tension and release doesn't always have to revolve around harmony as they create a stir with their cross-rhythmic conversations and then put out the fire by trimming things back in this department.
Pianist Andrew Toombs makes his mark throughout with energetic right hand runs and firm chordal statements, bassist Tim Seisser delivers bubbly solos and seismic support with his electric bass and McCraven displays some fine, future-is-now drumming that calls to mind such forward thinkers as Eric Harland and Chris Dave. While the occasional number meanders and moves in circles without really finding itself ("Tasha's Tune"), the majority of the songs are chock full of inspired ideas. McCraven is a marvel to observe during "Toombs' Time" and Toombs himself makes the piano sparkle as he hums along to his own solo ideas at various points on the album. Both men connect in a strange way on "Without A Doubt," which opens on a statement of dour beauty that's underscored by some rumbling drums and eventually takes shape as a vamping pattern that builds to a fever pitch.
Makaya McCraven may be more of a regional presence at this point in his career, but his talents aren't likely to be bound by the borders of the Windy City. Split Decision should be a source of pride for this promising up-and-comer.
Track Listing: SPlit Decision; Toombs' Time; Shades Of Grey; New Movement; Zsiga; Interlude Ruff; Jho's Beat; Tasha's Tune; McGregor Bay; Without A Doubt.
Personnel: Makaya McCraven: drums; Andrew Toombs: piano; Tim Seisser: bass.
Record Label: Chicago Sessions