Donny McCaslin: Perpetual Motion (2011)
Donny McCaslin has long been one of the under-sung superstars of the modern tenor saxophone. In recent years, however, as both a leader and sideman with big band leader Maria Schneider, the Mingus Dynasty band, and trumpeter Dave Douglas, McCaslin has gained more and more well-deserved recognition. Drawing off the best of the 21st century's jazz, funk and rock fusion, Perpetual Motion demonstrates the sheer power of McCaslin as a player, and the individuality of his musical vision.
Back-to-back marathons really set the stage for the album. The title track starts on the mellow side, before exploding into a frenzy of oscillating tenor growls, altissimo runs, and rhythmic madness. A solo by pianist Adam Benjamin on Fender Rhodes brings back a measure of chill and a pleasing electric spacey-ness to what is an otherwise intense piece. "Claire" follows, opening with McCaslin engaging drummer Antonio Sanchez in a grooving duel of fast-flowing ideas for a solid four minutes, before Benjamin comes in on piano and Rhodes with bassist Tim LeFebvre. The result is a head-bobbing masterpiece of modern funk-jazz.
Certainly, McCaslin is as technically impressive as any saxophonist working today, with dizzying range and an incredibly intricate conception of rhythm. But his solos have deep soul too, as on the sweetly crying inflections of his tenor on the brooding "Firefly" and the morse code funk of "Energy Generation." He seems to be one of those rare musicians with the capacity to call forth some totally new sound from his horn in the heat of performance, and this quality of spontaneity comes through on record.
"Memphis Redux," with its quick and powerful tenor lines, sultry mix of piano and Rhodes, and deep-pulling backbeats, strongly calls to mind fellow tenor titan Joshua Redman's super-soul jazz work with Elastic, as well as Chris Potter's Underground band. Perhaps most surprising, after all these funk-steeped fireworks, is a beautiful solo piano track by the great Uri Caine, as a sweet coda to close the album.
Unfortunately, this is not an album for everyone. Those seeking something cool, mellow, smooth, or acoustic need not apply. This is a heavy hitting powerhouse of an album, running on high voltage electronics, and revolving around a saxophonist with one heck of a haymaker. And if McCaslin's jaw-dropping quartet set with Caine at the recent 2011 New York City Winter JazzFest was any indication, these guys show no signs of slowing down.
Track Listing: Five Hands Down; Perpetual Motion; Claire; Firefly; Energy Generation; Memphis Redux; L.Z.C.M.; East Bay Grit; Impossible Machine; For Someone.
Personnel: Donny McCaslin: tenor saxophone; Adam Benjamin: Fender Rhodes and piano (1-7, 9); Tim Lefebvre: electric bass; Antonio Sanchez: drums (1-5); Mark Giuliana: drums (6-9); Uri Caine: piano (4, 8, 10), fender rhodes (8): David Binney: electronics, alto saxophone (9).