Donny McCaslin :: Casting For Gravity (Greenleaf Music)

McCasslin is clearly trying to take contemporary jazz into a new arena with this album. It’s that good old chestnut called fusion that is the device for expansion here.

Donny McCaslin ‘Casting For Gravity’

[Release page] Donny McCaslin, acclaimed tenor saxophonist and composer turns his attention to the world of electronic music for some inspiration. I have to admit that this is the first I’ve heard of him, despite it being his tenth album as leader. Now that I’ve heard this one, I feel inclined to go and check out the back catalogue. This is really a great album: dynamic, virtuosic, groovy and multi-layered.

McCasslin is clearly trying to take contemporary jazz into a new arena with this album. It’s that good old chestnut called fusion that is the device for expansion here. Fusion, that which seeks to join two or more things together to form a single entity, has been used many times in the past, with varying degrees of success: Jazz rock, jazz funk, folk rock, well the list is endless. This album doesn’t really embrace electronic music in as far as using sequencers, computers, samplers and all that stuff, it’s more about how producers like Aphex Twin and Boards Of Canada—two big influences on him during this album according to McCasslin himself—approach the process of making music. Exploring sonic layers and textures as a musical device is something very familiar to those who’s work resides in the field of electronic music, but it’s interesting to take some of those ideas and apply them in a different context. In fact, there is a cover of Boards Of Canads’s classic track “Alpha And Omega” by McCasslin and the band on the album. I have to say, it’s a great interpretation, retaining much of the feel of the original, and yes, much of the sonic depth and interest.

Make no mistake though, this is still a jazz band, not an electronica replication band. And blimey, what a band. McCasslin has a mastery of his horn that sees him deftly enunciating slow mournful passages, and when required exploding with powerful riffs and phrases, as in the opening track “Stadium Jazz,” which begins with a lamenting melody over subdued keyboard backing and then erupts into a rhythm section riff that would make Fugazi proud. The drums are spectacular throughout the album, as indeed are the whole band, all of whom are hugely respected artists in their own rights. I mention the drummer because a friend of mine who is a very good drummer and has studied the instrument exhaustively for a number of years, upon hearing his name leapt into rapturous outpourings of his renowned skill. His name, if you’re interested is Mark Guiliana—the drummer on this album that is. Not my friend, his name is Tom.

There is a real electronic element to this album though in the form of keyboard player Jason Lindner. The electronica influence is not merely idealogical, the use of synthesisers and keyboard based electronic instruments adds an additional sonic layer, one that is concerned with the nature of the sound itself as much as its placement within the normal musical structures of time and pitch.

I’m really impressed with this album, I’ve listened to it a lot, and I’m finding more layers with each listen. It skirts with self gratifying forays occasionally, but always comes back with outrageously good music that you, or I at least can’t help but be intrigued by. Definitely highly recommended.

Casting For Gravity is available on Greenleaf Music [Release page]

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