New fire from Makaya McCraven, Julian Lage, Mark Guiliana and more, in this week's Take Five
Makaya McCraven, "Seventh String"
Over the last decade, Makaya McCraven has made the transition from first-rate Chicago drummer to head-spinning global "beat scientist," on his own creative terms. And as he noted in this 2019 profile on Jazz Night in America, McCraven isn't seeking some bold break from the tradition; what he's after is an extension and expansion. That much is vividly clear on his forthcoming album, In These Times, which is due out on Sept. 23 through a joint label partnership between International Anthem, Nonesuch and XL Recordings. The album's lead single, "Seventh String," features an ethereal wash of flute and electric guitar against a skittering beat that feels refracted through a cracked windshield: propulsive, recursive, set just slightly askance.
Julian Lage, "Auditorium"
In the hands of Julian Lage, the guitar serves not only a vehicle for self-expression but also a catalyst for communion. We've seen it before in his apprenticeship with Jim Hall, and his odd-couple kinship with Nels Cline. Now with View with a Room, due out on Blue Note on Sept. 16, Lage finds a deep current of connection with the great Bill Frisell. Listen to their blend on "Auditorium," and you'll instantly get the appeal. But for further context, Lage offers this reflection in a press statement: "There's a certain lineage that grows out of early pioneers like Jimmy Bryant and George Barnes and Charlie Christian, where there's this almost electric volatility to the sound. It's both beautiful and kind of sharp; it's subdued and warm, but also kind of gritty. In thinking about the orchestration for this album, I wanted to foster the point of that arrow."
Mark Guiliana, "a path to bliss"
For a good many listeners, Mark Guiliana is synonymous with the more combustible side of his art: a deep, driving groove, of the sort that pulls a band forward from within. If you've been paying especially close attention — or simply heard this episode of Jazz Night in America, produced by The Checkout's Simon Rentner — you know about a softer, more lyrical side to Guiliana's art. The third album by his eponymous acoustic quartet, the sound of listening, will be released on Edition Records on Oct. 7 — and judging by the opening track, "a path to bliss," it will once again center mood and melody in the gentlest of terms. With Jason Rigby on bass clarinet, Shai Maestro on piano and Chris Morrissey on bass, it's an anthem whose meditative qualities cohabit with a gradual rhythmic crescendo, and a kick-drum through line that feels like a cardiorhythm.
Kirk Knuffke Trio, "Stars Go Up"
Cornetist and composer Kirk Knuffke has a steadfast commitment to revelation. It's a core proposition for him in any improvisational setting, whether it scans more as "traditional" or "experimental" (genre qualifiers that, I suspect, he has little interest in parsing). His new album, Gravity Without Airs, due out on July 1 on TAO Forms, illustrates the point with two noted sound sorcerers, pianist Matthew Shipp and bassist Michael Bisio. On "Stars Go Up," which has its premiere here, listen for the intuitive shift from a strobelike repetition to a tender rubato, as each musician puts as much focused effort into listening as he does into playing. Knuffke sets the tone and example, but he knows that these are two partners who already live in that zone.
Marta Warelis, "In Waves"
An adventurous pianist born and raised in Poland, Marta Warelis has spent much of the last decade in the creative music ecology of Amsterdam, where she recorded her most recent album, a grain of Earth, last fall. Just out on the Relative Pitch label, it's as much a material interrogation of the piano as it is a solo recital; Warelis is interested in the instrument as a factory for sonic exploration, and she brings the full measure of her curiosity to the program. Some tracks work within a musical framework that evoke a pianistic precursor like Cecil Taylor, while others edge into an otherworldly plane. "In Waves" falls into this latter category, with its prepared-piano textures and surrealistic effects. There's a method in the madness, and maybe some madness in the method.