Donny McCaslin’s gargoyle tenor gobbles up them beats ‘Casting For Gravity’
In the rhythmic chaos, saxophonist Donny McCaslin casts out glorious measures of wrought-iron rebellion in his most artistically sound creation, Casting For Gravity, released on Greenleaf Music October 2, 2012.
With a solid band — keyboardist Jason Lindner, bassist Tim Lefebvre, drummer Mark Guiliana, David Binney (vocals, additional synths) — beside him, the Santa Cruz-raised, NYC-based McCaslin proceeds to go on a beastly tear through some of the most gravity-defying, original instrumentals ever heard on his 10th solo album.
McCaslin is a crazy inventor of the off-beat chaos, control and mayhem with many superlative strokes, contours, and lines intersecting in alternate striations. He’s played with the best jazz innovators there are: Gary Burton, Steps Ahead, Danilo Perez… crazy, genius minds.
The follow-up to Perpetual Motion’s acclaimed acoustic-electric funk-jazz upgrade, Casting For Gravity is exactly what the title track says. Every instrumental (10 total) pushes concepts of time, space, and the continuum of what makes a harmonic charge through one brilliant strain of memorable melody. McCaslin’s genius is he never buries the melody in a whole lot of sonic tricks. The melody, instead, is split like atoms and rearranged throughout each piece, serving every song’s temporal stratum.
“I wanted to make a bigger record with more sonic layers,” McCaslin described, in the DL Media press release. “I wanted to go a lot deeper into the electronic realm and push myself harder.” This he does, pushing the limits of his saxophone in magnificent explorations with a little inspiration from the British electronica artist Richard D. James, otherwise known as Aphex Twin.
“Aphex Twin really affected the way I wrote for this album,” McCaslin expressed, also in DL Media’s 2012 press release. “I was attracted to the way he uses really simple melodic ideas with all the activity happening in the drum programming. He’s got a palette of ambient sound, there’s a textural backdrop, the melodic elements are sparse and the beat is really intense. I wanted to try to write some stuff coming from that feeling.”
“Praia Grande” grabs attention immediately, perhaps more than any other song off the album, quite a feat considering McCaslin’s breaking rules and generating heat in every single track. McCaslin’s muscular apex and generous use of synth slide through the off-rhythms with a soul-stirring melody and a full-bodied, jacked-up backbeat. McCaslin can play dark shadows, but he’s all over this — the beat and the rhythm, the chorus and the bridge, the breath and the voluptuous, sharp-toothed tones — sparking fire, spitting volcanic ash, the voice before the wordless vocal-echo in such a fulfilling spiritual release.
On “Stadium Jazz,” the opening number, McCaslin and Lindner trade whoppers as if purposely misstepping off the gravitational lines of harmonic dystopia, playing fast and loose with the jazz rules when drummer Guiliana breaks into an electrostatic discharge, striking holes in the atmosphere. McCaslin reluctantly brings the circumvention back home in even, temperate strokes, diminishing lightning.
McCaslin serves up the odd-tempered power plays again in the decidedly off-balanced “Tension,” upending the groove with blasts and bursts ever-evolving in tempo, turns, and tones. The constantly revolving question mark of “Tension” demonstrates this saxophonist’s mastering of his instrument and his compositional daring. At around the 3:31 mark, he’s throttling his tenor to points beyond comprehension, baring a utilitarian, skeletal remnant of sound — while remaining perfectly musical. Jazz at its very modern, best.
Review first appeared in Examiner Aug. 5, 2014.