Donny McCaslin Group
New York, New York
December 16, 2009
The music from Donny McCaslin's recent album Declaration was the basis of this evening's first set, which was part of the saxophonist's two-day stand at the Manhattan jazz club, where he appeared with his nine-piece ensemble (Ben Monder: guitar; Hans Glawischnig: bass; John Clarke: French horn; Marshall Gilkes: trombone; Ed Simon:piano; Alex "Sasha" Sipiagin: trumpet; Marcus Rojas: tuba; Adam Cruz: drums). The band kicked off with "M," immediately showcasing the leader's skills with a solo filled with arpeggios and long notes. The tune itself sounded as if it belonged to a movie soundtrack with its unexpected pauses and climaxes.
They followed that with "Fat Cat,"written in homage to the Greenwich Village jazz club/pool hall of the same name. The tune employed a more unhurried approach the the preceding number, in addition to evidencing a clear Afro-Cuban influence. The latter was especially apparent during Simon's extended solo, which contained strong Latin rhythms mixed with contemporary elements. In addition, McCaslin shone during his own individual moment.
Until that moment, the remaining musicians had not yet been featured (with the exception of a drum solo from Cruz), which made the music feel a little too controlled. That perception changed during the second half of the set, especially when Glawishchig began "Uppercut" with a breathtaking solo. There was also a surprising exchange between Sipiagin and Cruz, the pair engaging in a call-and-response musical conversation before the whole ensemble joined in.
The set closed with a tune centered on Rojas, who began with a gurgling sound that evolved into a highly improvised contemporary piece also featuring Monder, who submitted an electrifying solo reminiscent of Steve Howe or Pat Metheny.
Though one could not help wondering why there were so few outstanding individual moments, especially considering the caliber of the musicians in the group, it was a very enjoyable, musically rich set that gave us a clear idea of McCaslin's talent both as a tunesmith and instrumentalist.