Tag Archives: International Anthem

Artist of the Week: On “Universal Beings,” Makaya McCraven Broadens His Jazz Appeal

AOTW-MakayaMcCraven-1244The history of Chicago jazz can be divided into two eras: before and after the establishment of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). Founded in 1965 by artists Muhal Richard Abrams, Jodie Christian, Steve McCall, and Phil Cohran, the collective quickly set an identity for Chicago’s most ambitious musicians, fostering a home for multi-instrumentalists Anthony Braxton and Henry Threadgill, and The Art Ensemble of Chicago.

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Dos Santos Create a Fascinating Blend of Cabaret, Cumbia, Jazz, and Latinx Punk

Dos Santos

Photos by Andrea Falcone

International Anthem has established itself as Chicago’s premiere jazz label by highlighting the threads that tie jazz together: the experimentalism, the roots, and the soul. Trumpeter Jaimie Branch hones in on the avant-garde and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Parker peppers his art with alternative funk. Producer Ben LaMar Gay infuses his music with experimental cues from rock ‘n’ roll, neo-classical composers, and electronic texturalists.

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Ben LaMar Gay’s Debut Album Mixes Free Jazz, Bossa Nova, and Electro-Bounce

Ben LaMar Gay

Photos by Maren Celest

Ben LaMar Gay is about to release his debut solo album. It’s also an album of his greatest hits. Until this point, the Chicago-born composer had treated the process of making music as an exercise in improvement: Rather than making songs to be released, he made them to analyze and study. The ones he enjoyed were sent to family members, and Gay’s nieces and a nephew became his biggest fans. After seven “records” in seven years, International Anthem—the Chicago-based jazz-leaning label—in conjunction with Gay, has culled the greatest from these personal exercises and turned them into Downtown Castles Can Never Block The Sun, an album that remains surprisingly cohesive despite featuring material from over the course of nearly a decade.

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Artist Reflections: Jaimie Branch on the Surprise Success of “Fly or Die”


The trailblazing jazz musician discusses resilience and patience.

When Fly or Die was released, I didn’t think it would do this. For me, the record made this band real, and I hoped it would be enough to get gigs for the crew. I was hoping that if people wrote about it, they would get it, and I think for the most part, people did, which is cool, but I wasn’t betting on that. I try not to think about those sorts of things too much.

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Album of the Day: Makaya McCraven, “Highly Rare”

Listening to Makaya McCraven’s mixtape, Highly Rare, provides a brief education in Chicago’s contemporary jazz scene. The players are among the best in the city, and they draw on its rich legacy while also expanding out in new directions. The album was recorded on a bitingly cold night, days after the gutting results of the U.S. presidential election, and you can hear that tension and bleakness throughout the LP. “Danny’s Intro,” a song from the night’s live recordings, sets the scene: “About to make some shit up for y’all,” yells McCraven before he manipulates his “yo yo yo yo yo yo yo yo” into a catchy hook. Charcoal gray, sticky floors, and dim lights—you can almost see the Chicago dive in which he recorded as the record plays out.

There’s a palpable sense of unease to Highly Rare that occasionally tips over into furiousness. “Venus Rising” is a rager, seeming to capture the awful impact of terrible news. The song lives in that space for almost five full minutes, before Ben Lamar Gay spits brass notes with his cornet, icy and raging.

There’s a similar weight behind “Left Fields.” McCraven’s polyrhythms chug like a steam train, clanging against Gay’s vocal cries and saxophonist Nick Mazzarella’s Eastern scales. “Above & Beyond” has a grainy groove: Junius Paul pulls the strings of his bass in perfect sync with the snap of McCraven’s snare. Its structure is songlike, with spacious verses sandwiching a chaotic chorus. If improvisation is a science, McCraven is one of the finest in the lab.

Tina Edwards