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Donny McCaslin at The Jazz Standard

Budd Kopman By

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Donny McCaslin at the Jazz Standard
The Jazz Standard
New York, NY
Tuesday, September 18, 2007

There has always existed in jazz a tension between the unprepared or spontaneous and the written or the composed. The recording process is part of this tension and crystallizes the immediate present moment for posterity, paradoxically helping to spread the jazz aesthetic while freezing it.

The CD release tour is another paradoxical part of the jazz scene, in that the band that recorded the record usually (more often than not) plays the tunes from it many times. For a one-nighter at The Jazz Standard, Donny McCaslin brought his sextet, along with executives from Sunnyside Records to support the release of In Pursuit, the band's CD which has been out for a few months.

The ensemble is quite high-octane and has been together for a while, composed of long-time compatriot, alto saxophonist David Binney, guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Scott Colley, drummer Adam Cruz (who replaces Antonio Sanchez from the record) and percussionist Pernell Saturnino.

The set, which was musically densely packed, started with "Fast Brazil" and ended with "Festival in 3 Parts," with "Madonna," "Send Me a Postcard," "A Brief Tale" and one other in between. Given such a lineup and program, the band's extreme tightness was to be expected. Cruz, Colley and Saturnino created the light and lithe but urgent Latin/South American rhythms with ease, allowing the front-line instruments to soar.

Small wonder that Monder is in such demand since it's what he does while not soloing that really makes the music. Using fresh and different chord forms, his irregular comping filled out the harmony without being obvious, while the short phrases he interjected as comments added spice to the proceedings. A monster player technically, Monder barely seems to move his fingers when he solos, and the electronics, which he chooses wisely, allow him to soar and crunch when needed.

Binney, who produced the album, has had an obvious influence on McCaslin's compositions, in much the same manner as on Mirror by Miles Okazaki. The use of the second, higher horn added an intriguing sound to the lines he shared with McCaslin, with solos that really took off.

McCaslin, whose saxophone sound is taut and forcefully supported, has a style that is hard to pin down, since he uses quite a few different time feels and articulations. Although quite able to run a long line off with ease, he might just as well play short, sharp phrases made up of repeated notes and patterns of wide intervals. The one thing that is immediately apparent is that McCaslin's is not a style that one would term "laid back": every note he plays has an urgency about it.

The compositions, existing in the space between through-composed and free improvisation, have an organic quality about them that allows the arrangements to seem natural as the tune unfolds. Although most of the pieces followed a loose ABA form, "Send Me a Postcard" and the epic "Festival in 3 Parts" felt as if they unwound without distinct declamation and soloing sections.

The set was packed with music that had so many different levels—from the complex and sophisticated to the spontaneous and visceral—that, instead of flying by as is the norm, time seemed to stop. By mixing hot playing with so much pure melody, McCaslin and the band were entrancing.

Visit Donny McCaslin on the web.

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