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Lazaro Vega

Donny McCaslin

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Who breaks singles of instrumental music on Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone? Donny McCaslin.  Since saxophonist Donny McCaslin's band became "David Bowie's last band" for the album "Blackstar," McCaslin recorded and released "Beyond Now" in 2016 and played 80 concerts all over the world since. Jazz From Blue Lake features McCaslin's music in the first part of each hour found here: www.bluelake.org/ondemand

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Coincidentally, I watched this on Roku last night and liked it more than my rational brain was telling me I should.

The guy pretty much lays the "same" solo every time out, but it's a good solo, and I really really like the way the band plays as a unit. Check out the drum kit. Bass/snare, no toms. Two cymbals + hi-hat. Sunny Murray-ish reductionist drum kit, almost. Anybody who wants to think of this as rehashed fusion, yeah, I can see that, but again, look at that drum kit and build out the esthetic from there, see if that gets you right back to fusion, even of a Steve Grossman/Stone Alliance type thing. Maybe, but not really.

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Hey, I "discovered" Donny when he was a freshman at Berklee in 1986. Was there to do a story on Berklee and the NEC, walked by Phil Wilson's classroom and heard Donny and drummer Ben Perowsky playing their asses off. We all talked at length over lunch and later that day, when interviewing then Berklee dean Gary Burton I told him about Donny, who at the time  Gary knew not of (big place, lots of students, Donny was just a freshman). Two years later, Gary's group came to town with Donny on tenor. Since then I've heard Donny live a few times and bought a good many of his records. 

Agree about how the band plays as a unit, but even with the quote marks I don't think that "Donny pretty much plays the 'same' solo every time out." For one thing, within each solo there's too much interesting activity afoot for them be the same.

 

P.S. Donny's dad was a Southern California jazz vibist. From an early age, Donny was taken to gigs in lieu of a being babysat (I think there was a divorce involved there) and plunked down on the stand. Information clearly was absorbed.

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Saw him just a few months ago. Very entertaining set, and his drummer Mark Guiliana was impressive, too!

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3 hours ago, Larry Kart said:

Agree about how the band plays as a unit, but even with the quote marks I don't think that "Donny pretty much plays the 'same' solo every time out." For one thing, within each solo there's too much interesting activity afoot for them be the same.

Didn't mean it as any kind of a diminshment (one can say the same thing(s) about, say, Booker Ervin, Sonny Stitts, a.o.), theres always the chromatic things, there's always the same contours done with them, so I stand by that part of it. But like Chuck famously (to me, any way) once said about Booker Ervin,, he's important not for what he plays, but how he plays it (syntax quite possibly paraphrased, idea not). People used to give Joe Henderson that same tag, but I never really bit on that. But...on some of Joe's "lesser" records, you can hear chromatic symmetries being used as connection devices, and...that's ok. IMO.

I first heard McCaslin on a Monday Michiru record, and was totally mesmerized how perfectly he played over a totally electronic beat "system", a freaking perfect symbiosis. Then I heard on some other dates playing more traditional forms and was...less enthralled. But this stuff, this whole "let somebody else play bebop, extended or otherwise". vibe of his (when he does it), it just feels right to me, and I'll go with that right until it starts feeling wrong. The dude played a variant of that "same solo" on one of the Ryan Truesdell/Cil Evans records, and even as I heard what it was, even more I heard how it was, and it sure felt right. Again.

The solo with Monday was on "The Right Time" off of Routes, and all I can find on You Tube is remixes, where there's a lot of chopping involved, which works, but the original cut, that was one of, perhaps the first Monday album I heard, and that cut just made my jaw drop.

otoh, the very "sameness" of his solos make them perfectly choppable, which in these days and times is in no way a liability, imo. It shows, perhaps, a convergence of macro-mindsets from different starting points. Of such things is cultural evolution made? to that end, refer back to that drummer not needing a bigass muti-rack drumset. Things are happening, and what ws that you said about history is happening now, it's happening to us? Is that close enough for jazzbulletinboard?

Here's the most expansive remix,of the question. It is nothing like the original cut, but the bits of McCaslin's solo that they use are choice. And yeah, I lke this kind of thing anyway, when it's done like this. But the original is just...visionary.

 

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I seem to recall Chuck writing here or the BN Board that Booker Ervin had two solos - a fast one and a slow one.

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I have to admit that McCaslin is bit of a puzzle to me.  (But -- confession - I haven't heard many of his leader-dates yet, something I'll surely get around to one of these days -- and I'm streaming his latest album here at work, now, as I'm typing this.)

His approach (and his tone) is nothing like the tenor-players I like best.  I was initially, not so much "put-off" by his playing on David Bowie's Blackstar album, as I was just intrigued that here was an "inside/outside" approach -- something that (in the abstract), I really espouse and love.  And yet, his particular language seemed entirely foreign to me.  Of course, after 10-20 spins of Blackstar, I absolutely fell deeply in love with the album (in general), and 30-40 more spins later, I also love McCaslin's playing on the album (which I now think is incredibly beautiful).

THAT SAID, his approach is not a style I'm instantly drawn to (or at least not yet).  I heard the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra several months ago, here in DC (first time hearing them live), and best as I'm recalling, a LOT of the reed-players had an approach not entirely unlike McCaslin's (or maybe my ears aren't discerning enough to say how their approaches differed a lot).

Maybe there's an inner logic to his style that gets better with repeated exposure.  I seem to remember spinning (streaming) a couple of his more recent albums ~8 months ago, and my initial reaction was either ambivalence, or puzzlement.  But now, as I'm typing this and spinning his 2015 album Fast Future, I'm connecting better with it than anything I'd tried last year.  Maybe all the repeated exposure to Blackstar (along with Maria Schneider's most recent CD), is also getting his sound in my head.

There's a simplicity to his approach, that's very melodic, and chromatic - but one that isn't afraid to bend damn near every note a bit.  And his sense of time is elastic, to put it mildly - but his attack isn't especially hard-edged either.  All just a very different approach than what I'm more used to.

He's playing here in the DC-area (at UMD) in December, and I'm pretty sure I'll end up going (though it's a pain in the ass, cuz I probably need to rent a zip-car to get there).

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