We’re New Again – A Reimagining by Makaya McCraven (International Anthem / XL Recordings)
The ghost of the revolutionary American poet/musician/author Gil Scott-Heron must be dancing, and smiling broadly somewhere tonight with the recent release of the “new” record “We’re New Again” by a group led by Chicago drummer Makaya McCraven.
Gil Scott-Heron died (age 62) in 2011 and had issued his last record (“I’m New Here”) the year before in 2010. This new release by Makaya McCraven is a revisiting of the recordings that made up this last record. The new record is an amazing tribute to both Scott-Heron and the diverse African-American traditions that he arose from, and so proudly represented over his 40 year and 15 + album career.
On this release, we hear a series of recordings that are a deep and soulful reflection of the “Bluesologist” spirit that was Gil Scott-Heron. Where the successful original 2010 record (produced by British underground dance music artist Richard Russell) backed Scott-Heron with dark electronic beats and synths, this one features a moving range of drums, bass, guitar, flute, saxophones and harp. The brilliant results make this new version sound simultaneously of both 1970 and 2020.
Fans of Gil Scott-Heron will recognize the organic jazz and blues based sounds of his first few records from the early 1970s that turned out classics like “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”. The effect to my ears is to make these final vocals even more personal and powerful. It seems like McCraven has taken Scott-Heron’s ghost back, one last time, to the early 70’s jazz-soul-blues-latin roots that he burst forth from, before he began his journey, charting and imagining the path that would become the music we now call Hip-Hop, decades in the future.
It is also worth noting that McCraven used only Scott-Heron’s vocal tracks for the original album, and then built new musical backing for each song based on amongst other things, samples from a number of recordings by his jazz drummer father, Stephen McCraven. As is his approach, McCraven also employed the skills of a number of the best young musicians in jazz and hip-hop. The results sound mostly like a warm magical intimate living room jam where your favourite musicians get to connect and dance with, and in the process pay tribute to, the spirit of one of their (and my) heroes – Gil Scott-Heron.
This powerful album is another credit in the growing list of Makaya McCraven’s musical accomplishments and an early bet for many 2020 top ten lists around the world.