1998 was a busy yet productive year for this young and gifted tenor saxophonist who hails from California. Donny McCaslin collaborated with sax dynamo David Binney on several projects for Binney’s Mythology record label which included Binney’s and Edward Simon’s fine solo recordings and the McCaslin-Binney turbo charged outing “Lan Xang”. McCaslin attended Boston’s Berklee School of Music and has performed with Gary Burton, The Mingus Big Band, Steps Ahead and other notables of the jazz world. On “Exile and Discovery”, McCaslin checks out some of his roots along with fine support from pianist Bruce Barth, bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Billy Drummond.
On the opener, Benny Golson’s “Along Came Betty” McCaslin steps in with a big full-bodied tone that at times is reminiscent of a Coleman Hawkins or Sonny Rollins yet McCaslin’s fluent chops, clever utilization of vibrato, free-jazz tendencies and sharp improvisational skills indicate a modern and deeply personalized approach. McCaslin and company swagger through this Golson classic with grace and sure-handed determination. McCaslin’s composition “Exile and Discovery” is an affable bop piece featuring well-coordinated phrasings and harmonies with the superb pianist Bruce Barth. The mood shifts midstream as McCaslin changes the tempo and proceeds to fire off some impressive tenor sax solos while displaying a commanding presence as he executes with authority and passion. Duke Ellington’s “Isfahan” is performed eloquently while Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low” gets a shot of adrenaline as McCaslin demonstrates his goods while receiving optimum support from the band. Pianist Bruce Barth turns in a blistering solo and trades fours with drummer Billy Drummond who never loses the beat while answering Barth with clever and articulate rhythmic patterns. McCaslin’s “A Prayer For Frances” is a soul searching ballad which touches on later day Trane, complete with Barth’s swirling and circular piano movements, Rashied Ali-ish drum work from Drummond and a strong bottom by the talented bassist Ugonna Okegwo. Monk’s “Bye-Ya” is given the swinging foot-stomping treatment. McCaslin also performs solo renditions of Astor Piazolla’s “Etude’s # 3 & 4. From”Tanguistiques”. McCaslin’s maturity is evident on these two short pieces where he sustains interest and shows a mature technique and conceptual approach.
“Exile and Discovery” is not about a hot saxophonist flaunting his chops but more of a group effort. These guys sound like they’ve been performing together for quite awhile. Entertaining and impressive, “Exile and Discovery” holds it’s own rather convincingly! Recommended.