Donny McCaslin: The Way Through (2004)
The Way Through explores the many colors of jazz while at the same time respectfully stretching the music’s boundaries. Donny McCaslin, a tenor saxophonist with a rich, warm sound, is also an extremely skilled arranger with an interesting use of space. The basic instrumentation here is sax, bass, and drums, but there’s also sax duet improvisations, solo work by McCaslin, and judicious use of voice, steel pan, and sampler. McCaslin has many paints on his palette, and his selections are always tasteful and interesting.
McCaslin combines original compositions with the standard “I Should Care,” Dizzy Gillespie’s “What Remains,” and Wayne Shorter’s “Fee Fo Fi Fum.” McCaslin is not afraid to take chances, and he is not afraid to mix styles and eras. A good example is his song “Break Tune” which, true to its title, breaks down the melody and explores the line between control and chaos. Here McCaslin uses a sampler, and the song is a successful merger of jazz and the new technology. The integration of acoustic and electronic instruments is still evolving, and McCaslin understands both well enough to take a positive step in harmonizing the two worlds.
McCaslin’s other original compositions are equally notable. There’s “San Lorenzo,” which starts off with a slow, yearning sax and ends in ecstatic singing. The steel pan, vocals, and Latin rhythms combined with McCaslin’s lyrical playing make this song a real gem. Other originals include “Skyward,” which has a swinging melody and interesting chordal work, the meditative exploration “Shadowlands,” and the title track “The Way Through,” where McCaslin stretches out with pure tones and expressive lines. The recording ends with the wonderful “Flutter,” a duet improvisation with McCaslin and altoist David Binney that channels Eric Dolphy and highlights McCaslin’s imaginative playing.
McCaslin explores a lot of territory on The Way Through , and whether he’s coloring inside the lines or disregarding them altogether, he always has something interesting to say. His assimilation of different styles and technologies is also compelling, and certainly worth watching. McCaslin is just shy of 40, which in the world of jazz is relatively young; it’s inspiring to hear him emerge as a leader, and listeners should look forward to more.
This review originally appeared in AllAboutJazz-New York .
Track Listing: 1. Skyward (McCaslin) - 6:01 2. San Lorenzo (McCaslin) - 2:49 3. Shadowlands (McCaslin) - 6:31 4. I Should Care (Cahn) - 5:59 5. The Way Through (McCaslin) - 7:50 6. Break Tune (McCaslin) - 3:57 7. Free California (Binney/McCaslin) - 3:22 8. Fe Fo Fi Fum (Shorter) - 5:40 9. What Remains (Gillespie) - 4:35 10. Woody and You - 3:30 11. Flutter (Binney/McCaslin) - 5:46
Personnel: Dave Binney - Alto Sax; Anders Bostrom - Flute, Alto Flute, Bass Flute; Scott Colley - Bass; Adam Cruz - Percussion, Drums, Marimba, Steel Pan; Doug Yates - Clarinet, Bass Clarinet; Donny McCaslin - Soprano Sax, Tenor Sax; Luciana Souza - Vocals.