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Donny McCaslin: Soar (2006)

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

With certain musicians play, you get the feeling that they're on a level above their peers. And what's more, it seems to come easy to them. Current saxophonists that fit this mould include Chris Potter, Joe Lovano and Kenny Garrett. Add Donny McCaslin to that list.

As a neophyte to McCaslin's work, I was extremely impressed by Soar. His tone is forceful yet soothing, his ideas fresh, and his approach unique. As with his sometime cohort, pianist Danilo Perez, he wears his Latin influences on his sleeves. And the album is quite diverse, showing the full range of McCaslin's compositional skills.

I'm always impressed when jazz records incorporate voice as an instrument. Here, McCaslin uses Luciana Souza's powerful vocals to provide beautiful coloring on certain tracks. For example, Souza's vocal accentuates the melody on "Push Up The Sky, giving it an otherworldly touch that justifies its title. And on "Be Love, she sings a contrapuntal line to McCaslin's, accentuating the sax in a quite different but equally efficacious fashion.

McCaslin and Souza are not the only strong musicians on this record. Bassist Scott Colley masterfully holds down the groove, remaining for the most part inconspicuous. Ben Monder plays the very diverse guitar parts demanded by McCaslin to perfection, running the gamut from acoustic Spanish flavorings to Kurt Rosenwinkel-style airy lines and piercing rock 'n' roll licks. And Antonio Sanchez, perhaps best known for being Pat Metheny's drummer of choice, is a great addition, sometimes accentuating the beat and sometimes playing along.

McCaslin is unafraid to overdub. He plays multiple parts on the opening "Tanya, a Panamanian folk song interpreted with gusto by a chorus of young people. Here, McCaslin is in the same boat as the aforementioned Potter. Purists deem the saxophone and other wind instruments to be unbefitting of overdubbing, but these artists are forward-thinking enough to take advantage of any and all opportunities available to them to make their music more interesting.

Soar is McCaslin's album through and through, but the freshness of his ideas is enough to make the recording interesting in and of itself. When combined with the strong supporting musicians and the saxophonist's fine compositional acumen, you have an album well worth checking out. Recommended.

Track Listing: Tanya; O Campeao; Push Up The Sky; Hero As A Boy; Be Love; Grafton; Soar; Laid Bare; Mejorana Tonosiena.

Personnel: Donny McCaslin: tenor saxophone, flute, alto flute, vocals; Luciana Souza: vocals (1-5,8); Ben Monder: guitar; Orrin Evans: piano (2-4,8); Scott Colley: bass (2-9); Antonio Sanchez: drums (2-9); Pernell Saturnino: percussion (1-3,5,7-9); Shane Endsley: trumpet (7,8); Luis Bonilla: trombone (7,8).

Record Label: Sunnyside Records

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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