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Donny McCaslin: Declaration

Troy Collins By

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Venturing into unexplored territory, New York-based tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin's third recording for Sunnyside Records is a marked departure from his previous release, the stripped-down trio session Recommended Tools (Greenleaf, 2008). Augmenting his working ensemble with an understated brass section, Declaration showcases McCaslin's stellar skills as an improviser while demonstrating his mettle as a burgeoning writer and arranger.

Renowned for his Olympian tenor solos, McCaslin's facile interpretive abilities were honed under the tutelage of George Garzone and Billy Pierce at Berklee, and documented as a sideman in the company of such luminaries as David Binney, Dave Douglas, Danilo Pérez and Maria Schneider. McCaslin comes into his own as a composer on this panoramic session, which highlights his creative virtuosity as soloist and writer in a variety of settings.

Joined by pianist Edward Simon and a four-piece brass choir, McCaslin's augmented quintet interprets these multi-hued compositions with brio. As veterans of McCaslin's previous Sunnyside dates, In Pursuit (2007) and Soar (2006), guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Scott Colley, drummer Antonio Sanchez and percussionist Pernell Saturnino lend this session a congenial sensibility filled with lyrical panache.

New to this longstanding core line-up, Simon proves as valuable a foil for McCaslin as Monder. Restrained and economical, Simon delivers billowy narrative soliloquies on "M" and "2nd Hour," offering serene contrast to the leader's fervid cadences. Whether amplifying McCaslin's muscular phrasing with scorching fretwork on the appropriately titled "Rock Me," or unveiling gossamer filigrees on the lush ballad "Jeanina," Monder's chameleonic versatility is peerless.

Embracing a wealth of genres and styles, the anthem-like opener "M" showcases the leader's pneumatic tenor, while "Fat Cat" demonstrates McCaslin and Simon's expertise navigating percolating Latin rhythms. The opulent harmonies of "Jeanina" and the plaintive Americana of the title track are the inverse of "Uppercut" and "2nd Hour"—labyrinthine post-bop excursions fraught with oblique angles and ingenious arrangements. Indicative of their titles, "Rock Me" is an electrified rave-up, with "Late Night Gospel" one of McCaslin's most compelling tunes—an ascending blues meditation featuring Simon and Monder's silver-toned lyricism buoyed by soulful brass accompaniment.

Considered one of the reigning mainstream tenor stylists of the post-Michael Brecker generation, Declaration is a bold new step for McCaslin, proving his abilities as a developing composer and arranger of note and opening new vistas on an already promising career.


Track Listing: M; Fat Cat; Declaration; Uppercut; Rock Me; Jeanina; 2nd Hour; Late Night Gospel.

Personnel: 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).

Title: Declaration | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records

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