Universal Beings e&f sides (International Anthem)

Makaya McCraven

Released July 31, 2020

AllMusic Favorite Jazz Albums 2020






An addendum to Makaya McCraven’s critically-acclaimed 2018 release Universal Beings, which The New York Times said “affirms the drummer and beatsmith’s position as a major figure in creative music,” Universal Beings E&F Sides presents fourteen new pieces of organic beat music cut from the original sessions, prepared and produced by Makaya as a soundtrack to the Universal Beings documentary film.
Directed by Mark Pallman, the Universal Beings documentary follows Makaya to Los Angeles, Chicago, London and New York City for a behind the scenes look into the making of the artists breakthrough album, taking the viewer through the story of Makaya’s life, his process and the community of musicians that helped bring this project to life. The Universal Beings documentary and Universal Beings E&F Sides album release July 31st 2020.
Named one of the best albums of 2018 by The New York Times, Rolling Stone, NPR, Stereogum, Billboard, SPIN, The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, and more, Universal Beings was recorded at four sessions in New York, Chicago, London and Los Angeles, and features some of the best “new” jazz players from those hot bed cities: Brandee Younger, Tomeka Reid, Dezron Douglas, Joel Ross, Shabaka Hutchings, Junius Paul, Nubya Garcia, Daniel Casimir, Ashley Henry, Josh Johnson, Jeff Parker, Anna Butters, Carlos Niño and Miguel-Atwood Ferguson – all of whom feature on Universal Beings E&F Sides.

Track Listing:

1. Everybody Cool 04:36

2. Half Steppin’ 03:40

3. Mak Attack 02:09

4. The Hunt 02:29

5. Beat Science 03:55

6. Dadada 02:06

7. Isms 03:15

8. Traveling Space 01:27

9. Kings and Queens 04:40

10. The Loneliness 03:22

11. Her Name 03:13

12. Universal Beings, Pt. 2 02:07

13. Butterss Fly 03:19

14. The Way Home 02:59


Makaya McCraven: drums (all tracks)
Brandee Younger: harp (tracks 1, 5, 11)
Joel Ross: vibraphone (tracks 1, 5, 11)
Dezron Douglas: double bass (tracks 1, 5, 11)
Soweto Kinch: saxophone (2, 14)
Kamaal Williams: keys (2, 14)
Nubya Garcia: tenor saxophone (3, 4)
Ashley Henry: rhodes piano (3, 4)
Daniel Casimir: double bass (3, 4)
Josh Johnson: alto saxofone (6, 12, 13)
Miguel Atwood-Ferguson: violin (6, 12, 13)
Jeff Parker: guitar (6, 12, 13)
Anna Butterss: double bass (6, 12, 13)
Carlos Niño: percussion (6, 12, 13)
Junius Paul: double bass (7 – 10)
Shabaka Hutchings: tenor saxofone (8, 9, 10)
Tomeka Reid: cello (8, 9, 10)

Recorded August 29th, 2017, at H010 in Ridgewood, Queens, New York (tracks 1, 5, 11); October 18th – 19th, 2017, at Total Refreshment Centre in Stoke Newington, London, UK (tracks 2, 3, 4, 14); January 30th, 2018, at Jeff Parker’s house in Altadena, California (tracks 6, 12, 13); June 18th and September 2nd, 2017, at Co-Prosperity Sphere in Bridgeport, Chicago, Illinois (tracks 7, 8, 9, 10)

Recorded & Mixed by Dave Vettraino & David Allen
Mastered by David Allen
Cover Art by Damon Locks
Portrait by Sean Owens
Design by Craig Hansen
Produced by Makaya McCraven
Executive Production by Scott McNiece


Between August 2017 and January 2018, Chicago drummer /composer/producer Makaya McCraven recorded four sessions with a rotating international cast of musicians to play four cities: London, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. After applying his signature editing and mixing process, he issued the internationally acclaimed double-album Universal Beings. Each side of the vinyl edition was subtitled for the city where it was recorded. The tour was filmed by director Mark Pallman for an accompanying documentary. It takes viewers through McCraven’s nomadic life and his creative process, and also goes behind the scenes with the musicians who brought the project to life: Saxophonists Nubya Garcia, Soweto Kinch, and Shabaka Hutchings, keyboardists Ashley Henry and Kamaal Williams, bassists Daniel Casimir, Dezron Douglas, Anna Butterss, and Junius Paul, violist Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, harpist Brandee Younger, cellist Tomeka Reid, vibraphonist Joel Ross, guitarist Jeff Parker, and percussionist Carlos Nino. On the most basic level, Universal Beings E&F Sides is the soundtrack for Pallman’s film. But nothing in McCraven’s world is basic. This music, performed and recorded during the tour, was left off the original album. Upon revisiting it for the film, McCraven registered surprise at the leftover material’s quality. He dug in and constructed a fresh score from the remnants. But this is not merely a set of extras; it’s an ear-opening, first-rate companion offering. Following the same M.O., these jams are built from impeccably wrought miniatures; they range from one-and-a-half to four-and-a-half minutes. All are based on the drummer’s signature compositional/improvisational concept using polyrhythmic cells and melodic motifs. McCraven calls it “organic beat music.” As is now de rigueur on his outings, the music — though diverse in harmonic, dynamic, and tonal articulation — still grooves. The tracks “Everybody Cool,” “Her Name,” and “Beat Science” are centered around harp, vibes, and upright bass, and incorporate a folk-like backdrop atop a weave of circular and syncopated beats. “Isms” is a duet between McCraven and Paul with a noir-ish, Middle Eastern modal motif, while “Traveling Space” finds Reid’s gorgeous, dissonant cello opening a dialogue that seamlessly becomes “Kings and Queens,” as McCraven, Hutchings, and Paul establish an evolving series of beats and vamps, that envelop and propel Reid forward. “Butterss Fly,” a showcase for the bassist, simultaneously draws on Afrobeat and Juju embedded in mysteriously dark, melodic funk. Kinch, Williams, and McCraven wed South African township music to modal jazz in a sprightly, dancing melody, complete with breaks, and (slightly) out blowing. While this set adds to and is derived from the context of the original album, it is a fundamentally standalone project due to the intensity of its focus on rhythmic force to propel somewhat fragmental notions of harmony and melody. Universal Beings E&F Sides is, therefore, not only a fine follow-up, but a visionary outing of its own that also stands as required listening for post-millennial jazz fans.

Thom Jurek (AllMusic)