Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for 1,000 backers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!

6

Donny McCaslin At Belfast International Arts Festival 2017

Ian Patterson By

Sign in to view read count
Donny McCaslin
Limelight
Belfast International Arts Festival
Belfast, N. Ireland
October 25, 2017

"Are you here because of Bowie or for jazz?" a woman asked those around her in the queue for Donny McCaslin's gig—part of the Belfast International Arts Festival. The answer, by and large, was both.

McCaslin's current group will likely always be remembered—and no doubt billed for some time to come—as David Bowie's backing band on Black Star (2016)—the singer's last studio recording, which also inspired in significant part McCaslin's striking Beyond Now (Motema, 2016). Yet there's a lot more to McCaslin's thirty-year career. Beginning with a four-year stint in Gary Burton's late 1980s band, McCaslin's journey has been signposted by high-calibre collaborations with the likes of Maria Schneider, Steps Ahead, David Binney and Antonio Sanchez, not to mention a dozen albums under his own name.

McCaslin, much like Bowie, moreover, has become increasingly tricky to pigeonhole over the years, as this Belfast gig served to remind. Backed by Jason Lindner on keys, Tim Lefebvre on electric bass and drummer Zach Danziger, electronica, dance rhythms and alt-rock aesthetics swirled around McCaslin's alternatively meaty and keening tenor sound. Shifts in tempo, mood and intensity were staples throughout, beginning with the opener "Bright Abyss," which switched between smouldering funk, enticing melodic furrows and echo- drenched psychedelia. Lindner's extended synthesizer/electronica improvisation—provoked by the push-and-pull of Lefebvre's spacious bass lines and Danziger's blistering industry—was equal parts Joe Zawinul and Aphex Twin.

A couple of new songs, untitled as yet, revealed contrasting sides of McCaslin as composer. The first, built upon the tenor player's strikingly melodic foundations, morphed into robust synth-pop, underpinned by Lefebvre's steadily driving bass grooves and Danziger's mesmerizing patterns—a sophisticated hybrid of drum 'n' bass, electronica-influenced rhythms and beyond. For this European tour McCaslin is rotating the drum chair from gig to gig between Danziger, Mark Guiliana and Arthur Hnatek. Giuliana and Hinatek will doubtless bring their own personalities to the group dynamic but it's hard to imagine they'll bring anything more than Danziger, whose tremendous work rate was matched by his inventiveness.

Another tune being road-tested was a vehicle for Lindner, who switched between upright piano and electric keys to conjure multiple textures. His jangling acoustic atmospherics and probing electronic rhythms steered the narrative of this slower number, with McCaslin lending plaintive tenor colourings. Lindner has been a key element in McCaslin's exploration of electronic soundscapes since Casting for Gravity (Greenleaf Music, 2012), arguably pushing the saxophonist into more experimental areas. Here, the two combined in powerful overlapping waves, with an array of modulators morphing the sounds to conjure vast, spacey canvases.

McCaslin was equally compelling in a more traditional, acoustic mode, his slippery glissandi and vertiginous escalations, crowned by piercing notes, whipping up the crowd. Yet for all the—intermittent—displays of individual virtuosity this was very much an ensemble tour de force. Whether locked in head-bopping futuristic funk, blazing contemporary jazz- rock, or knotty DJ-esque grooves, the real heights were scaled together as a collective.

An instrumental version of Bowie's "Lazarus" was the only overt tribute to the late singer, McCaslin's soaring tenor at the epicentre of this stirring anthem. The final number encapsulated a little of all the groups threads in a heady brew of melody, pedal-skewed sonics, barrelling tenor and driving beats. Over Lindner's simple keys mantra Danziger unleashed a pummelling solo, McCaslin slipping in to ratchet up the tension in a thrilling finale—an emphatic ending that negated the need for an encore.

With McCaslin's live set already looking towards the next release there could be no charge of resting on laurels. Nu jazz? Jazztronica? The labels don't quite stick to McCaslin's music, which as this stonking Belfast set illustrated, transcends categories whilst providing a tantalizing sonic augury for music yet to come.

Photos credit: Simon Hutchinson

Tags

Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Ostrava Days 2017 Live Reviews Ostrava Days 2017
by Martin Longley
Published: November 23, 2017
Read Diane Schuur at Birdland Live Reviews Diane Schuur at Birdland
by Tyran Grillo
Published: November 20, 2017
Read Pat Metheny at Belfast Waterfront Live Reviews Pat Metheny at Belfast Waterfront
by Ian Patterson
Published: November 19, 2017
Read Crosscurrents at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor Live Reviews Crosscurrents at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: November 15, 2017
Read "John Hart at The Turning Point Cafe" Live Reviews John Hart at The Turning Point Cafe
by David A. Orthmann
Published: May 2, 2017
Read "Arturo Sandoval At Yoshi's Oakland" Live Reviews Arturo Sandoval At Yoshi's Oakland
by Walter Atkins
Published: August 17, 2017
Read "Impressions of Monterey Jazz Festival 2017: MJF At 60" Live Reviews Impressions of Monterey Jazz Festival 2017: MJF At 60
by Walter Atkins
Published: October 6, 2017
Read "Herbie Hancock at the Gaillard Center Music Hall" Live Reviews Herbie Hancock at the Gaillard Center Music Hall
by Rob Rosenblum
Published: October 23, 2017
Read "Pat Martino at Dazzle" Live Reviews Pat Martino at Dazzle
by Douglas Groothuis
Published: September 2, 2017

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Please support out sponsor