Donny McCaslin: Perpetual Motion (2011)
Each new record from tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin is cause for celebration. With each album, McCaslin has put himself in the middle of a different instrumental configuration, challenging the saxophonist to reach new heights, and Perpetual Motion is no different. Now that he has proven his mettle on the piano-less trio battleground with Recommended Tools (Greenleaf, 2008), and demonstrated his significant arranging abilities with Declaration (Sunnyside, 2009), McCaslin moves on to a roiling locale with electric undercurrents.
The music on Perpetual Motion moves easily from turbulent tantrums to slick grooves, and McCaslin is nothing short of exceptional throughout. His playfully fluid and rhythmically vibrant runs over Antonio Sanchez's drums on "Claire" show off one side of his personality, but that merely scratches the surface. McCaslin also covers funky terrain on "Memphis Redux"; takes part in what can only be described as an intergalactic hymn-turned-soul burner on"Firefly"; and works his way over turbulent rhythmic terrain in a variety of manners.
While McCaslin deserves the majority of the credit for this music, Sanchez and pianist Adam Benjamin deserve honorable mentions. Benjamin conjures all manner of sounds from his Fender Rhodes, helping to lay the backdrop for each piece along the way. He rocks out when it counts, on "L.Z.C.M.," and moves from spacey sounds to organ-like swells with ease. Sanchez does more with four limbs than most people would be able to do with eight. While he can lay down a groove like nobody's business ("Memphis Redux"), his greater gifts come on the early tracks, when he has free rein to continually reshape the music from the bottom.
While eight of the ten numbers are complete representations of McCaslin's work, two oddities pop up at the end of the album. "East Bay Grit," a thirty-second track that sounds like the saxophonist's take on a dance groove, seems a bit superfluous, while For Someone," Uri Caine's gorgeous solo piano piece, is a bit out of place as an album closer on a saxophone-led session with an electric vibe.
Fortunately, neither of these minor gripes has any impact on the big picture. McCaslin's brawny-meets-brainy approach continues to drive his music, and his restless spirit has helped to create another unique, enduring monument to his artistry.
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).