Makaya McCraven Turns Music Hall of Williamsburg into a Jazz Club on Thursday Night
May 20, 2022
Makaya McCraven – Music Hall of Williamsburg – May 19, 2022
Jazz bands playing in rock clubs is nothing new, but that doesn’t mean it always works. Last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg, the musicians were perfectly suited for a standing-room-mostly crowd ready to listen, enjoy and, yes, move to new jazz music from the fringes of the genre. Harpist Brandee Younger opened the show, playing in a trio with Rashaan Carter on basses and Allan Mednard on drums. Younger’s music was a mood and despite her claim that her music is minor-key sad, judging by the faces in the crowd and their moving bodies, that mood was mostly joyous. Playing mainly original material off her 2021 release, Somewhere Different, the trio balanced the heavy groove of the rhythm section with a magical otherworldliness of Younger’s harp. Songs like “Spirit U Will” and “Reclamation” felt well-situated in the club, the harp, often coupled with some light digital effects, embodying aspects of the piano and guitar all at once. The set ended with “Tickled Pink,” Younger’s professed attempt to force herself to write a happy song, a challenge she had no trouble meeting.
After a short changeover, the headliner, drummer Makaya McCraven, took the stage with his band. As he introduced each player—Joel Ross on vibraphone, Marquis Hill on trumpet, Greg Ward on alto saxophone, Matt Gold on guitar and Junius Paul on bass—each got an enthusiastic round of applause from the audience, the response signaling both that the band was brimming with talent and that the audience was very attuned to the music and musicians they were about to hear. “Frank’s Tune,” off his 2021 release, Deciphering the Message, opened the set, the band going both fast and slow, sounding old and new, the room feeling like a classic ballroom and a modern rock club all at once.
McCraven’s compositions were each like little sonic journeys, the opener bouncing from one short solo to the next as each player had a chance to shine. The next tune, which rolled right out of the first, went from the full band playing to the vibes and guitar with the rhythm section, then just the vibes, and then reversed to build back up. McCraven would change the entire complexion of songs like “Autumn in New York” with a completely new rhythm pattern, taking things from groovy to rocking or from sexy to sultry. Longer individual solos Scotch-taped one piece to the next as the band kept everyone in the room moving with elements of funk, rock and hip-hop.
Younger returned to the stage for the latter half of the set, sprinkling her harp’s magic pixie dust on the already dense sound, giving it a lightness and new complexities. One piece flipped effortlessly between standard soloing and an intense full-band fugue-state thing, highlighting both the individual talents of the players and McCraven’s ability to harness those talents into a singular sound. The show ended with “This Place, That Place,” McCraven playing smooth drum lines while the band went fully syncopated and then everyone changing places, McCraven with the choppy drumming, the band easing smoothly, before meeting in the middle, a flowing groove, one last chance for the rock club attendees to listen intently and move their bodies. —A. Stein | @Neddyo
Photo courtesy of @SashaSeesShows