Tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin debuts on Dave Douglas' Greenleaf Music label with Recommended Tools. McCaslin shows his world-class cojones by heading a tenor trio with bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Jonathan Blake. The recording is produced by David Binney, no saxophone slouch himself, and executive produced by Douglas, who asked McCaslin to "write and record the great American tenor record."
Recommended Tools follows the path of other auspicious tenor offerings. In 1956, Sonny Rollins recorded with his first tenor trio that included bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne, resulting in Way Out West (Contemporary/OJC, 1957).
A year later, Rollins returned to the trio again for A Night at the Village Vanguard (Blue Note, 1957) and then with The Freedom Suite (Riverside, 1958).
But Rollins was not the only tenorist to predate McCaslin in a trio setting. Joe Henderson followed Rollins to the Village Vanguard (almost 30 years later) with The State of the Tenor (Blue Note, 1985). All of these recordings prove the durability of the format and Donny McCaslin steps in to attempt to expand the tenor trio palette.
McCaslin's contribution takes a freer more untethered approach. The title piece finds McCaslin soaring over the Glawischnig/Blake rhythm section. His tenor figure is circuitous, difficult to aurally tease from his soloing (perhaps that is the point). The entire trio shines right out of the gate, giving the listener a famous idea of what to expect.
"Eventual" possesses a precise head and time signature that transforms through several moods, including a driving rock rhythm led by two notes from the saxophonist. McCaslin does not ignore ballads, turning in two excellent examples with his own "Late Night Gospel" and Billy Strayhorn's "Isfahan," the latter perfectly rendered without piano or guitar support. McCaslin's mettle in a trio environment is soundly tested here and his response is definitively polished and pliant.
Recommended Tools shows Donny McCaslin continuing his arc with no plateau in sight. The tenor trio is a daring undertaking where the saxophonist experiences maximum exposure. It is also a format that requires much from the rhythm section and Hans Glawischnig and Jonathan Blake prove uniquely potent in their role. Let's hope that Donny McCaslin never plays it safe.
Personnel: Donny McCaslin: tenor saxophone; Hans Glawischnig: bass; Johnathan Blake: drums.