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Makaya McCraven - 'Highly Rare'

Anthony Dean-Harris
Editor-in-Chief
anthony.deanharris@nextbop.com / @i_ADH

Something about drummer/producer Makaya McCraven's aesthetic always seems to come off as gritty. Sure, his latest album, Highly Rare, was recorded live to 4-track tape in a Chicago dive bar, but it's not like that same rawness hasn't always been there in his previous albums. It's not like his style on the kit isn't always fascinating and captivating. It's not like even his beat tape, Split Decision, isn't still the fuzzy jam. The man is a marvel, not just because of his proficiency but also because of his not being afraid to let the grittiness of the sound be an extra bit of texture, and texture is definitely something Highly Rare has in spades.

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Combsy - 's/t'

Anthony Dean-Harris
Editor-in-Chief
anthony.deanharris@nextbop.com / @i_ADH

Chris Combs for some time had been a crucial element of Tulsa, Oklahoma's Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, adding not just angles to the group's sound but real curves. Playing the slide guitar will do that. So hearing his new solo project, aptly titled Combsy, will already provide some direction of the adventurous weirdness one would expect from a group of Combs' musical inclinations, for Combsy also has its fair share of curves.

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Nicole Mitchell and Haki R. Madhubuti - 'Liberation Narratives'

Anthony Dean-Harris
Editor-in-Chief
anthony.deanharris@nextbop.com / @i_ADH

While jazz and poetry are two artistic media that frequently gravitate around one another (hell, they even share an appreciation month in the United States), there aren't so many instances where they meld into a work that feels Capital-I Important. Certainly not like the utterly exquisite Liberation Narratives, the collection of songs commissioned by the Art Institute of Chicago for Mitchell to compose to accompany the work of her friend and colleague Haki R. Madhubuti.

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Black Diamond - 'Mandala'

Anthony Dean-Harris
Editor-in-Chief
anthony.deanharris@nextbop.com / @i_ADH

Compellingly making a swinging post-bop sound is a bit of an accomplishment these days. A music that can get a bit cerebral always needs an anchor but knows when to drift. Maintaining a delicate balance requires a steady hand at the wheel; it's fascinating hearing a quartet that has two, yet in Mandala, the new album from the group Black Diamond let by tenor saxophonists Artie Black and Hunter Diamond, this is a configuration that is certainly driving places.

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Portico Quartet - 'Art in the Age of Automation'

Anthony Dean-Harris
Editor-in-Chief
anthony.deanharris@nextbop.com / @i_ADH

It's always been hard to peg down the precise sound of the Portico Quartet. The group with the baddest hang (the steel drum, not the conceptual loitering full of camaraderie) in the game has always had electronica elements melded into jazz sensibilities, and with previous efforts to swing the pendulum away from the jazz genre, it's been even more difficult to know what exactly these guys have been up to. However, they've always been master craftsmen and their return back to an earlier sensibility as the Portico Quartet after their 2015 excursion into a more electronic direction, the staid discipline of their sound remains but the jazz sensibility persists nevertheless in their latest album, Art in the Age of Automation, out now on Gondwana Records.