Declaration is tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin's eighth solo effort, a compilation of original compositions and arrangements featuring a three- to five-horn brass section including trumpets, trombones, French horn and tuba. With Edward Simon (piano/organ), Ben Monder (guitar), Scott Colley (bass) and Antonio Sanchez (drums) making up the core band, the result is a far denser sound than his previous trio outing.
Like earlier efforts, McCaslin's songs are sterling, ranging from bittersweet ballads to funky rock to quirky postmodern bop. The title track is slow and soulful, with beautiful brass textures; "Uppercut" is progressively chromatic; "Rock Me" is hard-driving with effective contrapuntal writing; "Jeanina" is plaintive, harmonized with ambiguous Wayne Shorter-style chords, and "Late Night Gospel" recalls the pensive Americana of Bill Frisell. The horn arrangements mostly function as flavorings and thickeners, but McCaslin makes some nice moves in the various chorale sections, exploiting the rich sonorities of the low brass.
As usual, the leader's improvisation is phenomenal, alone worth the price of admission. Blending lyricism, passion, intelligence and inventiveness, the solos plunge and soar effortlessly, their rigorous construction seemingly at odds with their natural flow. On "Rock Me," for example, McCaslin is able to inject a good deal of chromaticism into his lines without abandoning the harmony, and on "Uppercut" he escalates quickly in range and intensity, each new gesture an organic outgrowth of the one before, sustaining considerable momentum over the course of the improvisation. Also of note is Monder's solo on "Jeanina," an uncanny mixture of folksy and futuristic.
M; Fat Cat; Declaration; Uppercut; Rock Me; Jeanina; 2nd Hour; Late Night Gospel.
Donny McCaslin: tenor saxophone, alto flute (1, 8); Edward Simon: acoustic piano, organ (5); Ben Monder: guitar; Scott Colley: bass; Antonio Sanchez: drums; Pernell Saturnino: percussion (2); Alex "Sasha" Sipiagin: trumpet, flugelhorn (1, 2, 3, 5, 7); Chris Komer: French horn (1, 2, 3, 5); Marshall Gilkes: trombone (1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Marcus Rojas: tuba (3, 5, 7, 8), bass trombone (1); Tatum Greenblatt: trumpet (1).