International Anthem: The Beat of the Past, Present and Future

Jakob Baekgaard By

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Dis is da drum. Everything starts with a beat. A heartbeat. A rhythm. A language. Communication between people. Patterns in percussion. Tribal language. Rhythms reaching out.

Since the beginning, rhythms have been an integral part of jazz. Swing is rhythm and rhythm is swing. The pace has changed. The patterns have changed. Acoustic and electronic sources have been used and re-used, mixed and remixed, but rhythms remain the essence of jazz. Three different releases from International Anthem show the potential of the beat that points into the past, present and future of rhythm in jazz.

Makaya McCraven
Universal Beings
International Anthem

Since drummer, producer and beat scientist Makaya McCraven broke through with In the Moment (International Anthem, 2015), he hasn't looked back. McCraven has continued to refine a new beat-oriented jazz sound and the culmination of his project so far is Universal Beings.

Recorded in four different sessions, Universal Beings is an ambitious double-album that reaches across different locations, spanning New York, Chicago, London and Los Angeles. The biggest scoop is the inclusion of tenor saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, a leading light on the young British jazz scene. On "Atlantic Black" he plays with a raspy tone reminiscent of Pharoah Sanders, who is also saluted on "Pharoah's Intro."

Another notable guest is guitarist Jeff Parker, who played on In the Moment. His light, spiky licks and tasty chord combinations add spice to sophisticated grooves like "Butterss's and "Turtle Tricks." Fans of the post-rock group Tortoise will immediately recognize his sound.

McCraven is in the center of it all, throwing out endless variations of funky rhythms that would make any budding rapper in need of a beat drool over the quality. Whereas the best saxophonists can spin a seemingly endless variation of licks, McCraven is capable of pulling out one catchy rhythm after another. In fact, Universal Beings is a compendium of cool beats, but it is also a record that weaves the beat into a deeper musical tapestry, creating different soundscapes from the Alice Coltrane-inspired "Holy Lands" to the spacy house party groove of "The Newbies Lift Off" with organic drum 'n' bass rhythms, advanced breaks, Rhodes and saxophone. The laughter at the end of the track and the audience shout-outs at the beginning of "A Queen's Intro" suggest that this is indeed communal music. The rhythms have a purpose of bringing people together.

Damon Locks Black Monument Ensemble
Where Future Unfolds
International Anthem

Sound and visual artist Damon Locks created the artwork for Universal Beings, and he has also made the cover of Where Future Unfolds, the debut of his Black Monument Ensemble. Locks and the 15-piece ensemble play community music driven by rhythmical chants that take the music into the past and the future. It's political music that addresses all kinds of issues. Using percussion, a choir and splashes of electronics and other instruments like the clarinet of Angel Bat Dawid, the music both feels futuristic and ancient.

The drums talk together, and the voices sing together and when a young solo voice emerges on "Rebuild a Nation," it is answered by a choir of voices that lift the music into an anthem, calling for a way of rebuilding a nation "no longer working out." In fact, the compositions on Where Future Unfolds wouldn't be out of place on the anthology of protest songs released on Smithsonian Folkways: The Social Power of Music (Smithsonian Folkways, 2019). There is clearly a message in the music.

One of the most important things about Where Future Unfolds is that it shifts the focus from the individual to the community. Whereas jazz started out as community music, the revolution of bop made the music more individualistic, focusing on the individual strengths of the soloist. Locks reclaims jazz music as community and protest music and mixes acoustic and electronic rhythms into a distinctive expression.

International Anthem

Like the records by Makya McCraven and Damon Locks, the self-titled debut of Resavoir involves many musicians, but is a project envisioned by one particular person. In this case, it is multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer and arranger Will Miller. Miller's ear for a catchy rhythm goes back to his hip hop days producing beats, but the music he makes with Resavoir doesn't center around rhythm in the way it does with McCraven and Locks. With Miller, rhythms are just a part of a multilayered orchestral approach.

Birdsong, wordless female voices, strings, keyboards and a sample from a plane opens the album, wishing "a pleasant flight." Indeed, it is suitable to wish a pleasant flight as the album travels through many different sounds, melodies and rhythms. Though very short, clocking in just below thirty minutes, the album covers a lot of musical ground. Both the title track and "Taking Flight" are enticingly funky orchestral endeavors with good groves and many layers. The beat, electronic and acoustic, is just one ingredient in a wide cinematic landscape. It can almost disappear in the piano-based "Plantasy" or take the frontstage on "Clouds" with castanet-like rhythms and slide guitar.

No matter what he does, Miller understands how to create an organic balance in the music where acoustic and electronic rhythms, breezy melodies and multilayered soundscapes merge into a vibrant 21st century jazz aesthetic.

Tracks and Personnel

Universal Beings

Tracks: A Queen's Intro; Holy Lands (feat. Brandee Younger); Young Genius (feat. Joel Ross); Black Lion (feat. Dezron Douglas); Tall Tales (feat. Tomeka Reid); Mantra; Pharaoh's Intro 01:58; Atlantic Black; Inner Flight; Wise Man, Wiser Woman (feat. Shabaka Hutchings); Prosperity's Fear (feat. Junius Paul); Flipped OUT; Voila (feat. Daniel Casimir); Suite Haus (feat. Nubya Garcia); The Newbies Lift Off (feat. Ashley Henry); The Royal Outro; The Count Off (feat. Carlos Niño); Butterss's (feat. Anna Butterss); Turtle Tricks (feat. Jeff Parker); The Fifth Monk; Brighter Days Beginning (feat. Josh Johnson); Universal Beings (feat. Miguel Atwood-Ferguson).

Personnel: Makaya McCraven: drums; Brandee Younger: harp; Joel Ross: vibraphone; Tomeka Reid: cello; Dezron Douglas: double bass; Shabaka Hutchings: tenor saxophone; Junius Paul: double bass; Nubya Garcia: tenor saxophone); Ashley Henry: Rhodes piano; Daniel Casimir: double bass; Josh Johnson: alto saxophone; Miguel Atwood-Ferguson: violin; Jeff Parker: guitar; Anna Butterss: double bass; Carlos Niño: percussion.

Where Future Unfolds

Tracks: Statement of Intent / Black Monument Theme; Sounds Like Now; Solar Power; Rebuild A Nation; Which I Believe It Will; Which I Believe I Am; The Colors That You Bring; The Future?; Power; From A Spark To A Fire.

Personnel: Damon Locks: electronics, bells, voice, lyrics & compositions; Angel Bat Dawid: clarinets; Dana Hall: drums, percussion; Arif Smith: percussion; Phillip Armstrong: vocal; Monique Golding: vocal; Rayna Golding: vocal (4); Eric McCarter: vocal; Tramaine Parker: vocal; Lauren Robinson: vocal; Anna Martine Whitehead: dance; Raven Lewis (Move Me Soul): dance; Cheyenne Spencer (Move Me Soul): dance; Mary Thomas (Move Me Soul): dance; Bryonna Young (Move Me Soul): dance; Tiarra Young (Move Me Soul): dance.


Tracks: Intro; Resavoir; Taking Flight (feat. Brandee Younger); Plantasy; Clouds; Woah; Illusion; Escalator (feat. Sen Morimoto); LML.

Personnel: Akenya Seymour: voice, piano, wurlitzer, sampler; Will Miller: sampler, trumpets, synth, piano, wurlitzer, B3 organ; Macie Stewart: violins; Lane Beckstrom: bass; Colin Croom: synth; J.P. Floyd: trombone; Mira Magrill: flute, bamboo flutes; Peter Manheim: drums, percussion; Zoe Miller: violin; Irvin Pierce: tenor saxophone; Brian Sanborn: guitar; Brandee Younger: harp; Jeremy Cunningham: drums, electronic drums; Wills McKenna: flute; Luke Sangerman: electronic drums; Knox Fortune: drum programming; Sen Morimoto: voice, saxophone; Carter Lang: wurlitzer drum machine, additional production

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