Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Donny McCaslin - Beyond Now (Motema, 2016)

Taking the lessons he learned from playing on David Bowie’s Blackstar album and applying them to his own music, tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin enlists longtime colleagues Jason Linder on keyboards, Mark Guiliana on drums and Tim Lefebvre on bass to build a well crafted electric jazz fusion album. “Shake Loose” opens the album with hard hitting modern jazz, and while the extensive use of the keyboards may eventually date the music they do nothing to blunt the hard charging tenor saxophone and strong complex rhythms which are timeless. Multiple keyboard and electronic textures are used on “A Small Plot of Land,” and strong stoic vocals are added to the mix. McCaslin comes in about halfway through and whips up a storm. “Beyond Now” has a subtle and probing opening where the music evolves in a patient fashion, becoming sharper and more focused as time goes on. The electronics rise up buoyed by powerful drumming and slashing saxophone weaving in and out of the electronic force field. The intensity is white hot with ripe saxophone and wailing drums putting the music over the top. “Bright Abyss” opens with a silky beat and predatory saxophone looking for an opening, moving in slowly amidst the electronic backdrop. The music develops a deeper identity, and surges forward. McCaslin’s saxophone starts climbing steps from low to high and then taking flight amid mysterious electronic sounds with sharp drumming, which leads to a majestic full band conclusion. There is fast and true tenor saxophone blasting over muscular drumming on the surging “Faceplant.” Shards of electronics buttress the storming saxophone with rhythm and thick electric bass, and then the full band charges ahead like a beast. “Warszawa” is a David Bowie original from his Berlin period. There is a haunting air to the music and McCaslin makes the most of that playing yearning saxophone which cuts across the moody backdrop. His saxophone gains gradient and strength with buzzing electronics and scattered drumming. Cymbal taps and piano with electronics frame mellow saxophone on “Glory.” Acoustic piano provides a respite from the electronic onslaught before the leader’s strong saxophone edges back into the spotlight for a powerful drum propelled solo. “Remain” ends the album with low tones and probing saxophone. Things are pretty mellow, but there is a groove building and the saxophone slowly rises in intensity and soon the drums are crashing in, hitting cymbals hard leading into a distinguished full band buildup. The once in a lifetime opportunity to record with David Bowie has really galvanized Donny McCaslin, simultaneously opening new vistas to explore and focusing the unique electric jazz he has been honing for the past several years. Beyond Now - amazon.com

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