From the opening, title tune, tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin, very tightly supported by bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Johnathan Blake, lays down the gauntlet on Recommended Tools
with music that is decidedly cerebral, but containing enormous energy and drive that supports the feeling of playing with abandon while remaining under control.
The aural journey is remarkable in that, despite the fact that the emotional intensity remains at a very high pitch, there is no fatigue as the music draws the listener inside its world. This recording is a tour de force
for everyone involved, most obviously on the faster tunes. However, the ballads, "Late Night Gospel," "Margins of Solitude" and the well-known Billy Strayhorn tune "Isfahan," are just as precise, pressing forward with nothing extra.
Given that there is no chordal instrument present, the trio's sound is naturally spare. This is no drawback however, instead drawing attention to the remarkable interplay of these players. What becomes quickly apparent is that not only will the harmonic support be implied rather than stated but that, for the most part, rhythm will be given the same treatment and the pulse will be fluid. Nevertheless, the feeling of continual forward movement is very strong.
Glawischnig and Blake, giving a demonstration of what team play means, studiously avoid any obvious regular pulse while listening closely to each other and to McCaslin. The result is a sound with much complexity that paradoxically feels natural and logical. McCaslin feeds both off of and into the energy created by Glawischnig and Blake, producing the wonderful sound of a group completely in sync. While McCaslin's horn is the natural lead instrument, the bass and drums manage to evince independence in what they do while producing a unified whole.
Although this release is McCaslin's seventh as a leader, including In Pursuit
(Sunnyside, 2007), his reputation has thus far been built from his playing in trumpeter Dave Douglas' quintet and Maria Schneider's orchestra. Recommended Tools
is a debut recording for McCaslin on a number of fronts, marking his first release on Douglas' Greenleaf label, as well as his first trio. McCaslin and Glawischnig go back to the latter's Common Ground
(Fresh Sound, 2003), and Blake appeared on Glawischnig's Panorama
(Sunnyside, 2008). Surrounding everything is the ubiquitous David Binney, who produced the record. Recommended Tools
is a joy to listen to. McCaslin is masterful throughout, demonstrating an ability to integrate the emotional and the intellectual. Likewise, Glawischnig and Blake are outstanding in their dual roles of accompaniment and commentary. Top-notch music making!