In a sense, this is borderless music, forged out of alchemical interactions between people but also a higher-level interaction between the communities those people make up. “We are all interconnected,” he says. “We’re all building off the past. It’s a vision of a world that’s less fragmented and segregated.”
“We are all interconnected, We’re all building off the past. [My music] is a vision of a world that’s less fragmented and segregated.” — Makaya McCraven
The playing drips with sort of electric energy that can only come from a group of people in a room free-associating together. But it’s made all the more strange and alluring by McCraven’s editing. Sometimes you feel the jump cuts in your chest; sometimes they happen without you noticing, but either way, you understand intuitively why he loops the sections he does; they’re grooves you never really want to leave. He’s taking something happened in a room somewhere, between some people, and sending it to another place.“I’m going to flip it and recontextualize it and change it; it’s a way of transporting us to a magical space,” he says. “Anything can happen.”Universal Beings fulfills this promise more than any of his other records so far, with McCraven enlisting dozens of players from around the world into his search for the perfect moment. There are indicators that some bits were recorded in certain places with specific groups of people—when the delicate breeze of a harp shows up on “Holy Lands,” for example, you can check the liner notes and see that it was recorded at H0l0 in Ridgewood, Queens, the only room where McCraven had a harpist in tow.And yet, there’s something about his approach that draws all these disparate players into the same universe—something that makes the mystical malleted percussion of “Black Lion” (recorded in Queens) feel like it shares mutated DNA with the hopscotching sax of “Suite Haus” (recorded in London). You could blame it on McCraven’s coherent taste as a bandleader, or you could take could come to a more metaphysical understanding. One player does, on the dialogue sampled on “Brighter Days Beginning.” Amid a discussion about privilege, collectivity, and the strange power of this music, someone comes to a realization: “We’re universal beings.”On the record, and in McCraven’s world writ large, borders dissolve, barriers crumble. Everything is available to you. All of humanity is in conversation. All you have to do is just start playing, on his count.
"[Editing improvisations is] a way of transporting us to a magical space,” McCraven says. “Anything can happen.”