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Interviews

Donny McCaslin: Lightness and Gravity

By Published: February 5, 2013
AAJ: As a follow-up, what and who are some of the jazz influences that prevail on this record? I ask you this because you have one of the most well-developed and individual voices in contemporary jazz, both as a soloist and as a composer—indeed, as a leader—and it's not at all clear whose shoulders you're standing on, if you know what I mean.

DM: That's hard for me to answer. There've been certain periods in my life when I've been really heavily influenced by players, which I could name. And then over the years, there've been different periods [where] I've been into different people. I don't often sit back and listen to myself and think about, "Whose influence do I hear?" I just try to put it together in a compelling way. But I think when I was quite young, my main influences were John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
and Michael Brecker
Michael Brecker
Michael Brecker
1949 - 2007
sax, tenor
, and in my twenties I got really, really heavily into Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
b.1930
saxophone
. And Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
b.1933
saxophone
.

So, for me, in terms of the rhythmic thing that we talked about a little bit, I would say that's primarily coming from Sonny Rollins. And then various extensions of other people that, to me, come from Sonny Rollins. And then, sound-wise; I think especially with this kind of music, I'm sure the Michael Brecker influence is there, but also Jan Garbarek
Jan Garbarek
Jan Garbarek
b.1947
sax, tenor
. I mean, one of my favorite records as a teenager was [pianist] Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
b.1945
piano
's record Belonging (ECM, 1974), which Garbarek is on and his sound is incredible. So I think that's something that's always been compelling is that wonderful sound of Jan Garbarek.

So, that would be my Readers Digest answer, sort of looking back over my life. I think those were the main things, but there's a lot of other stuff, too. And you know the rhythmic language initially comes from Sonny Rollins, but then I spent a lot of time studying Afro-Cuban music and Afro-Peruvian music and Brazilian music and African music, just to inform my rhythmic vocabulary, coming from the drums as opposed to coming from a melody player. To try to get deeper into it.



AAJ: You're touring in Europe right now, and then across the US and Canada in the coming months. Is the touring group the same that appears on the record?

DM: It's mostly the same quartet, but sometimes it's different, depending on folks' availability. From [February], it's the group from the record and then at a certain point, Nate Smith
Nate Smith
Nate Smith
b.1974
drums
takes over the drum chair for that last bit of February, and early March. So sometimes it's different people. But for the most part, it's the guys from the record.

AAJ: You said that the music on this record was really born out of performance. Casting for Gravity is a beautifully produced recording, but it doesn't necessarily sound like a concert date. What challenges does the music present when it comes to live performance?

DM: Well, sometimes when you're traveling, the equipment isn't your first choice of equipment, so sometimes sonically it can be a little challenging. But I do think that the intensity that you hear on the record is how we play live, and I think that translates. So sometimes hearing it live, yeah, there are not as many sonic elements, because on the recording we had the luxury of having three different keyboard tracks happening at once, all doing different things, and of course live, you don't have that luxury. But it's still sounds pretty full live and the intensity that we play with on the record comes across live, so to me that makes up a little bit for the lack of hands [laughs].

AAJ: What projects can we be looking for over the next six months to a year?

DM: I want to do another record with this group. So I'm actually going to the airport today to go to Europe and going to start working on new music as we're on the road. And I've written some music for a sax quartet so I'm going to do a concert in September at the Rubin Museum [of Art, in New York City]. So that's something I'm thinking about doing potentially more, with sax quartet. And also I'm contemplating doing some very pared-down acoustic ballad project or something like that. But really for me the focus is this band right now, because I'm having so much fun doing it.

Selected Discography

Donny McCaslin, Casting For Gravity (Greenleaf, 2012)

Donny McCaslin, Perpetual Motion (Greenleaf, 2011)

Donny McCaslin, Declaration (Sunnyside, 2009)

Donny McCaslin, Recommended Tools (Greenleaf, 2008)

Donny McCaslin, In Pursuit (Sunnyside, 2007)

Maria Schneider Orchestra, Sky Blue (ArtistShare, 2007)

Donny McCaslin, Soar (Sunnyside, 2006)

Dave Douglas, Meaning and Mystery (Greenleaf, 2006)

Matthias Lupri Group, Metalix (Summit, 2006)

Donny McCaslin, Give & Go (Criss Cross, 2006)

Gene Ess, Sandbox and Sanctum (SIMP, 2005)

Greg August, Late August (Self Published, 2005)

Maria Schneider Orchestra, Concert in the Garden (ArtistShare, 2004)

Donny McCaslin, The Way Through (Arabesque, 2003)

Danilo Pérez, ...Till Then (Verve, 2003)

Alex Sipiagin, Mirrors (Criss Cross, 2003)

Hans Glawischnig, Common Ground (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2003)

Deanna Witkowski, Wide Open Window (Khaeon, 2003)

Bruno Råberg, Chrysalis (Orbis, 2002)

Mary Ann McSweeney, Thoughts of You (Sparky 1 Productions, 2001)

Donny McCaslin, Seen From Above (Arabesque, 2000)

Reuben Wilson, Organ Donor (Jazzateria, 1998)

Lan Xang, Lan Xang (Mythology, 1998)

Donny McCaslin, Exile and Discovery (Naxos, 1998)

Steps Ahead, Vibe (NYC, 1996)

Photo Credit

Courtesy of Donny McCaslin
Donny McCaslin
Donny McCaslin
b.1966
saxophone


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