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Saxophonist/Composer Donny McCaslin Release New CD "Declaration" on Sunnyside Records


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Saxophonist/Composer Donny McCaslin releases new CD titled Declaration on Sunnyside Records

Musicians thrive in familiar musical settings, but every once in a while they challenge themselves by adding or augmenting the familiar with the unfamiliar. On his third Sunnyside CD, Declaration, the all-world saxophonist Donny McCaslin – whose sonorous sax has laced the stage and studio with some of today’s brightest stars, from Dave Douglas and Maria Schneider to Danilo Perez and the Mingus Band, and who is an impressive leader in his own right – augments his outstanding international combo; guitarist Ben Monder, and bassist Scott Colley, keyboardist Ed Simon, drummer Antonio Sanchez and percussionist Pernell Saturnino, with an impressive horn ensemble featuring Alex “Sasha” Sipiagin and Tatum Greenblatt on trumpet and flugelhorn, Chris Komer on French horn, Marshall Gilkes on trombone and Marcus Rojas on tuba/ass trombone.

“After my last recording, Recommended Tools, which is a trio recording on Greenleaf Records, I wanted to shift gears and do a larger project that would push me into new areas composition-wise and orchestration wise, so the overall idea was for me to get into new and different territory as a composer and as an improviser,” McCaslin says. “I hadn't written for a brass group before so this was new for me. Initially the idea was having the brass as padding but the more I wrote the more involved the brass became. The addition of brass gives me more options to play off as an improviser as well.”

McCaslin’s raw sax swings with drive and finesse in straight-ahead, ballad, rock-oriented, and Afro-Latin settings evidenced by the brilliantly conceived and arranged eight tracks on the CD. “M” is the spirited, up-tempo opener, inspired by brilliant keyboardist Egberto Gismonti. “Fat Cat” abounds with the kind of Latin structure McCaslin excels at improvising on, contrasted by the plaintive choral ambience of the title track. “Uppercut” features a complex, Monkish vibe, based on the relationship between the intervals in the melody. There’s no decoding the “turn it up” tempo and “Rock Me.” “Jeanina” is an oblique ballad reminiscent of Wayne Shorter’s “Miyako” and is dedicated to McCaslin’s mother. “2nd Hour” is another melodic labyrinth, threaded with chromatic concept of improvisation. The CD concludes with the Americana aura of “Late Night Gospel.” Throughout the recording McCaslin’s singing and soaring horn lines are elegantly and inventively buttressed by the evocative horn arrangements.

Declaration solidifies Donny McCaslin’s status as a saxophone great. Born on August 11, 1966, he grew up in Santa Cruz, California, 90 miles north of San Francisco. He started playing the saxophone at the age of 12, studying the styles of John Coltrane, Michael Brecker, and Duke Ellington. After graduating from Aptos High School, he embarked on a European tour with the school’s big band, and also played in the Monterey Jazz Festival California All Star Band for 3 years.

He later matriculated to Berklee College of Music in Boston, studied with the exceptional saxophonists George Garzone, Joe Viola, and Billy Pierce, and played with instructor and vibraphonist Gary Burton for four years. During his Boston days, jazz critic Leonard Feather wrote that McCaslin “…amazed the audience one night by stealing the show in a saxophone jam featuring such seasoned pros as Red Holloway, Phil Woods, David “Fathead” Newman, and Flip Phillips.”

After moving to New York in 1991, McCaslin soon found work with Eddie Gomez and then the fusion ensemble Steps Ahead, recording on the group’s album Vibe. Since then he has worked with, Danilo Perez, Dave Douglas, David Binney, Brian Blade, the Gil Evans Orchestra, Mingus Dynasty, the Mingus Big Band, Maria Schneider, Ken Schaphorst, George Gruntz, the collectively led group Lan Xang (he was featured on their self titled release, Mythology 1997). He released Exile and Discovery (Naxos Jazz), his first recording as a leader in 1998. His other works as a leader include Seen From Above (Arabesque 2000) and The Way Through (Arabesque 2003). In the last few years, his work with Danilo Perez on the pianist’s CD …Till Then (Verve 2003), Luciana Souza’s Norte e Sul/North and South (Sunnyside 2003) and Maria Schneider’s “Sky Blue”(ArtistShare 2008) and “Concert in the Garden” (ArtistShare 2004) for which he was nominated for a Grammy award for “Best Instrumental Jazz Solo”, augmented his equally satisfying solo sides. His Sunnyside recordings as a leader include Soar (2006) and In Pursuit (2008). In 2008 Donny was named the #1 Rising Star on Tenor Saxophone by DownBeat Magazine. The All Music Guide, correctly sums up this amazing artist by stating that “…McCaslin is equally at home, conversant with the tradition but forging his own compositional and instrumental voice.” Declaration is further proof of that astute observation and is a labor of love.

“I wanted this to be a beautiful record as it was recorded just before the birth of our daughter Claire,” McCaslin says. “She's here now and is such a blessing to my life. My hope is that this record conveys some of feelings that have run so strongly through me during the process of birth and new parenthood; joy, wonder, and tremendous love.”

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