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Donny McCaslin: Recommended Tools (2008)

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Donny McCaslin: Recommended Tools How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Recommended Tools, saxophonist Donny McCaslin's seventh session as a leader and his first for Dave Douglas' Greenleaf Music, follows in the tenor trio tradition of Sonny Rollins' A Night at the Village Vanguard and Joe Henderson's The State of the Tenor. Going chordless, without the safety-net of a comping instrument, gives the frontline instrumentalist more latitude to take it out, but also creates additional pressure to establish and develop an improvisational narrative—a task that McCaslin proves well up to. Featuring original compositions (plus a cover of Billy Strayhorn's "Isfahan"), with bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Johnathan Blake, Tools leaves ample sonic space for McCaslin's "stories." Immediately evident is his encyclopedic knowledge of scales and intervals, a mastery that allows him to permutate and transmogrify these rudiments with ease, each idea an organic outgrowth of the previous one.

In spite of all this cleverness, however, the flow never feels forced or formulaic. On "The Champion" (a tribute to Hermeto Pascoal), "Margins of Solitude" and "Fast Brazil" (a remake of of his earlier big band version found on In Pursuit), the saxophonist plays astounding solos that seamlessly blend harmonic complexity with lyric ingenuity. Even the Martian-esque "2nd Hour Revisited," based on a twelve-tone concept, suggests an inherent logic and ends holistically.

On Sep. 30, sporting a fashionably faded Selmer sax, bassist Rick Rodriguez and drummer Ted Poor joined McCaslin at New York's Jazz Standard to celebrate the new release. From the opening fusillade of "3 Signs" to the soulful Americana of "Late Night Gospel," the subtly shaded bop of the title track, a pared down "Margins of Solitude" and finishing with an ebullient "Fast Brazil," McCaslin was consistently excellent. Rodriguez's trebled tone and middle-of-the-beat assurance alongside Poor's melodramatic minimalism, astutely highlighted throughout, were effective complements to the leader's fervid blowing.

Track Listing: Recommended Tools; Eventual; Late Night Gospel; Excursion; Isfahan; The Champion; Margins of Solitude; 3 Signs; 2nd Hour Revisited; Fast Brazil.

Personnel: Donny McCaslin: tenor sax; Hans Glawischnig: bass; Johnathan Blake: drums.

Record Label: Greenleaf Music

Style: Modern Jazz


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