Donny McCaslin: In Pursuit (2007)
CD/DVD Reviewer since 2007Laurel Gross has written features for The New York Times and is a former arts and entertainment editor at The New York Post and Variety.
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If creating challenging music that is also thoroughly entertaining were a crime, then Donny McCaslin ought to be in jail.
Some jazz players/composers today can seem so preoccupied with producing art that they make it very difficult for listeners to get in on the fun. Not so with McCaslin, who proves with In Pursuit's nine originals that art doesn't have to be hard to digest. It's brain food that also offers sensual pleasures.
A virtuosic tenor whose blowing can range from gut-busting to delicate and tender, McCaslin is aided in this pursuit by an extremely gifted rhythm section: guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Scott Colley, drummer Antonio Sanchez and percussionist Pernell Saturnino. The notable David Binney, who also produced this deeply satisfying CD, brings another reed voice to the proceedings with his distinctive alto sax.
Like his vigorous playing, McCaslin's originals speak with many voices and moods and always with authority, precision and purpose. Over the years the music of this California-to-New York transplant has drawn on Latin, South and Central American flavors as well as Afro-Cuban vibe,s and he continues nibbling on other cultures here to glorious effect, for instance on "Festival in 3 Parts, a very affecting and lively composition inspired by the Afro-Peruvian festejo groove.
McCaslin stirs whatever ingredient he is moved to include into the pot and many influences don't spoil the broth. The feeling of cohesion is enhanced by the skillfulness of this ensemble. Monder lends an aura of mystery and expansiveness to the moody "Madonna and moodier "Sea of Expectancy. McCaslin soars in mellower mode over Monder's flowing, gorgeously executed guitar lines. The Latin-tinged "Descarga features an arresting display of Colley's bass and Sanchez's drumming. Like a force of nature McCaslin's propulsive solo on "Village Natural roars through a landscape of striking drums and percussion.
This engaging mix of composed and improvisational music will make you want to get out of your chair and move your body, or at least exert some serious head-wagging.
A Brief Tale; Descarga; Madonna; Sea of Expectancy; In Pursuit; Village Natural; Send Me a Postcard; Fast Brazil; Festival in 3 Parts.
Personnel: Donny McCaslin: tenor saxophone, flute, alto flute; David Binney: alto saxophone; Ben Monder: guitars; Scott Colley: bass; Antonio Sanchez: drums; Pernell Saturnino: percussion.