Makaya McCraven reimagines Blue Note classics on new album Deciphering the Message

Drummer and producer Makaya McCraven reinterprets classic works from the Blue Note vault on his new remix album, Deciphering the Message.

The Chicago-based musician’s latest project includes tunes by jazz giants Art Blakey, Eddie Gale, Dexter Gordon and more.

McCraven has made a name for himself as a jazz bandleader known for loop-based production in a similar vein to celebrated hip-hop beatmakers Madlib and J Dilla, both of whom have also made appearances on Blue Note.

Ahead of the album’s September release, you can hear the lead single De’Jeff’s Tune, a new take on pianist Jack Wilson’s hard-bop track Frank’s Tune from his 1967 album Easterly Winds. The track features guitarist Jeff Parker and flutist De’Sean Jones, who each take turns at blazing solos. It opens and closes with a message sampled from Art Blakey: “We want you to leave your worldly troubles outside and come in here and swing.”

Additional collaborators on Deciphering the Message include vibraphonist Joel Ross, trumpeter Marquis Hill, alto saxophonist Greg Ward, guitarist Matt Gold and bassist Junius Paul.

McCraven says he hopes the remix album will leave a lasting impression and point listeners to the original sources.

“I always want to make music that will connect with people in one way, where it makes them nod or feel something or transport them somewhere,” he says. “I also hope this makes them check out the source of this music if they have it. The music that we’re making now is part of the same route and is connected, so I want to honour tradition and release something that people can vibe to.”

Even though the album is a collection of jazz classics spanning Blue Note’s long and storied history as a record label, it’s sequenced as if it were one cohesive set.

“When piecing everything together, I wanted to create a narrative that made the listener feel like they were falling into this space or a movement,” McCraven explains. “I was really trying to make a record out of it, not just a series of tracks.”

Here’s the track listing for Deciphering the Message:

  1. A Slice of the Top (AKA Sliced Off the Top)
    • from A Slice of the Top by Hank Mobley
  2. Sunset (AKA Son Set)
    • from Whistle Stop by Kenny Dorham
  3. When Your Lover Has Gone (AKA When You’ve Left Your Lover)
    • from A Night in Tunisia by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers
  4. Ecaroh (AKA Revlis)
    • from Horace Silver Trio by Horace Silver
  5. Tranquility (AKA Corner of the World)
    • from Components by Bobby Hutcherson
  6. Wail Bait (AKA Wait Bail)
    • from The Memorial Album by Clifford Brown
  7. Coppin’ the Haven (AKA At the Haven Coppin’)
    • from One Flight Up by Dexter Gordon
  8. Frank’s Tune (AKA De’Jeff’s Tune)
    • from Easterly Winds by Jack Wilson
  9. Autumn in New York (AKA Spring in Chicago)
    • from Blue Lights, Vol. 1 by Kenny Burrell
  10. Monaco (AKA Monte Negro)
    • from ‘Round About Midnight at the Cafe Bohemia by Kenny Dorham
  11. Mr. Jin (AKA Mr. Gin)
    • from Indestructible by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers
  12. C.F.D. (AKA D.F.C.)
    • from Something Personal by Jack Wilson
  13. Black Rhythm Happening
    • from Black Rhythm Happening by Eddie Gale

Last year, McCraven released We’re New Again, a reimagining of Gil Scott-Heron’s final album I’m New Here, as well as Universal Beings E&F Sidesthe companion album to his critically acclaimed 2018 recording Universal Beings.

Deciphering the Message arrives Sept. 17 via Blue Note.

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