If saxophonist Donny McCaslin stuck a toe into the ocean of electric jazz with his previous album Perpetual Motion
(Greenleaf, 2010), then with Casting For Gravity
he dives headfirst into the sea. But don't worry, with his musical dexterity and adeptness on horn, he is in no danger of sinking. In fact, he takes to these waters like a thirsty horse.
The saxophonist of choice for the band leaders including trumpeter Dave Douglas
, singer Kate McGarry
, and composers/arrangers Ryan Truesdell
, and Maria Schneider
, McCaslin grew up in California listening to fusion, pop, and bands like Tower Of Power that infused R&B and funk into their jazz horn section. For awhile in the 1990s, he played in a revived version of vibraphonist Mike Mainieri
's Steps Ahead
Steps Ahead, with its various lineups that included saxophonist Michael Brecker
, keyboardist Don Grolnick
and drummers Peter Erskine
and Steve Gadd
, is the touchstone for this recording. That is, a time when fusion was not a dirty word.
The saxophonist surrounds himself with talent here, starting with producer/saxophonist David Binney
, a fellow saxophonist and former member of the 1990s collective Lan Xang, with McCaslin. The album opens with the oxymoronic "Stadium Jazz," a melodic burner with ever- changing rhythms, and finds drummer Mark Guiliana
powering all things ablaze. The pair feed off each other throughout, trading rounds on "Tension," as electric bassist Tim Lefebvre
tinkers in thunder-making.
The inspiration here is both the jazz fusion of Weather Report
and the electronica of bands like Aphex Twin and Boards Of Canada, whose song, "Alpha And Omega," gets covered here, with keyboardist Jason Lindner
's spooky synths and McCaslin's processed, echo-y effects. As the song progresses the electronics threaten and bully the affair, all the while McCaslin Enduring on a short, four-minute song that begs for a longer live production.
Like jazz giant Wayne Shorter
, McCaslin's sound suffers no ill effects of fusion, nor is he compromised by the genre. He goes toe-to-toe with the electric funk on "Says Who" and sails above the changes on the tour de force
"Praia Grande." On the thoughtful closer "Henry," a softer tone is called, with Linder on electric piano and McCaslin delivering his trademark runs.