Other straight ahead artists have introduced some electonica or ambient feel to their releases and in some cases perhaps just one or two tunes. The end result is normally a rich sonic color pallet with a predictable retro feel. Saxophonist and composer Donny McCaslin introduces a more ambient feel with the end result being a far more pleasing modern and progressive ambiance as opposed to some if not most of his contemporaries.
McCaslin is controlled sonic fury. A spacious cinematic development yet lyrically intense and passionate at the same time. A musical enigma. Thanks to the flash fried ferocity of Jason Lindner not to mention a killer rhythm section with bassist Tim Lefebvre and drummer Mark Guiliana, McCaslin welcomes you to that magical land of rhythm and groove with a forward thinking approach of powerful melodies combined with that deceptively subtle sense of texture that gives a nice nuance with each subsequent tune. The end result is literally a three dimensional sonic depth of field that is cutting through typical fusion like a laser beam. McCaslin is hearing harmonically different then most and taking the eclectic road less successfully traveled.
McCaslin is looking for the bigger sound of jazz but tucked neatly within the 4tet that exhibits such a command of melodic sensibility and groove which is only fitting as McCaslin was heavily influenced by the local deep grooves of Tower of Power. McCaslin was on a more contemporary quest with this release, contemporary not commercial thus enlisting the aid of Aphex Twin, the pseudonym of highly influential British electonica musician Richard D. James and the end results are a fusion of ambient sounds with a textured base. The melodic elements are dialed back with the percussive intensity pushed to the front. Straight ahead goes clubbing?
"Stadium Jazz" opens this sonic exploratory with punctuated free lyrical approach while never losing accessibility. Drummer Mark Guiliana owns the pocket and acts as the rhythmic gate keeper for the 4tet to follow. Shifting meter without a harmonic net for a post modern excursion with prog rock over tones. "Alpha and Omega" delves deep into the ambient abyss with vibrant saxophone work from McCaslin with a more organic approach to harmonic development without ever dancing close to the edge of the self indulgent cliff. Rhythmic intensity is again the driving force for which the 4tet seemingly revolves around. Ambient music in general at least for this critic is at times void of melodic and harmonic development but the lyrical sense of urgency of McCaslin navigates around the norm creating a sound seldom heard. "Tension" borders on accessible free jazz with again a textural component that allows the listener to pick up different aspects of the tune with each subsequent spin of the disc.
Casting Gravity is the end result of a plethora of influences that range from a hybrid of British acid jazz to Weather Report inspired fusion. The new sound of jazz? Not for me to say. What I can say is this is a release you will come back to again and again and may be one of the most inspiring of the year. The radio format otherwise known as Smooth Jazz had promised us a new sound when stations were getting taken off the air faster than one can tie his or her shoes and the end result has still not been determined. The gap between modern jazz fusion and straight ahead is closing fast and it is brilliant recordings such as Casting Gravity from Donny McCaslin that are making this much needed transition possible.
Tracks: Stadium Jazz; Says Who; Losing Track Of Daytime; Alpha and Omega; Tension; Praia Grande; Love Song For An Echo; Casting For Gravity; Bend; Henry.
Personnel: Donny McCaslin: tenor saxophone; Jason Linder: electric & acoustic pianos, synthesizers; Tim Lefebvre: electric bass; Mark Guiliana: drums; David Binney: vocals & additional synthsizers.