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The Donny McCaslin Trio at the Jazz Standard, NYC

Budd Kopman By

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The Donny McCaslin Trio at The Jazz Standard
The Jazz Standard
New York City, New York

September 30, 2008



Saxophonist Donny McCaslin took the stage this night with his trio, bassist Ricky Rodriguez and drummer Ted Poor, and proceeded to blow up a mighty storm of great music in a format that is heard all too rarely.



The tunes came from his latest release Recommended Tools (Greenleaf, 2008), which has garnered much praise from many corners. McCaslin's partners on the album are bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Johnathan Blake, and part of the point this performance was clearly the strong interplay among all three players and the resulting group sound—in addition to the virtuosity, deep well of ideas and sheer stamina of McCaslin.



Thus, this particular gig afforded the chance not only to hear a killer album live, but also to watch other players navigate music the very conception of which demands full participation and not mere accompaniment. As evidenced by McCaslin's tour schedule, Poor has performed this music before, whereas Rodriguez has not.



The set consisted of five tunes getting extended workouts: the rhythmically catchy and great opening tune "3 Signs," the contrasting, Bill Frisell inspired "Late Night Gospel," the intricate and rhythmically tricky "Recommended Tools," the introspective and expansive "Margins of Solitude" with its opening bass duet and, lastly, a McCaslin favorite, "Fast Brazil."



Throughout, McCaslin was on fire and, although each tune displayed an unmistakable melodic theme, the improvisations were very free rhythmically and harmonically. The flow of ideas, along with the manner in which they were stitched together, was a joy to listen to, forcing the otherwise naked display of virtuosity into the background. At times, there was nothing to do but be swept up in the musical surge.



Poor seems to revel in cooperative playing situations and groups, as evidenced by his membership in the group Bad Touch (with saxophonist Loren Stillman, guitarist Nate Radley and organist Gary Versace) and his performance on their debut album Like A Magic Kiss (Self Published, 2008).  On this night he very nearly stole the show, especially when given the chance to solo, but also with his rapid responses and forceful leading.  McCaslin has clearly shown that he wants this kind of player in the drum chair, since on the recording Blake is no less of a whirlwind.



McCaslin and this trio give many clinics, which must score equally well with young players and ensemble directors. This show was a terrific demonstration of individual and group playing at the highest levels.


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