Acclaimed saxophonist Donny McCaslin takes a bold leap forward with his tenth album as a leader, Casting for Gravity. McCaslin's gargantuan tenor sound finds an ideal setting to rampage through in the ferocious grooves and electronic textures of keyboardist Jason Lindner, bassist Tim Lefebvre, and drummer Mark Guiliana. Couching his trademark gift for brawny melodies in lurching dub rhythms, swirling electronica-inspired atmospheres, and arena-rock power, McCaslin has crafted a game-changer of an album, fusing a wealth of forward-looking influences into one wholly new modern jazz sound.
Casting for Gravity follows on the heels of 2011's highly acclaimed
Perpetual Motion, which found McCaslin experimenting for the first time
with merging his hard-charging acoustic sound with more funk-inflected
electrified elements. But where that album was a blistering
electro-acoustic hybrid, Casting for Gravity soars past fusion into
forging a visionary voice from eclectic influences.
wanted to make a bigger record with more sonic layers," McCaslin
explains. "I wanted to go a lot deeper into the electronic realm and
push myself harder."
McCaslin's initial forays into plugged-in
territory were a reflection of his upbringing in Santa Cruz, California,
where he was weaned on the deep, deep grooves of Tower of Power and
Headhunters bassist Paul Jackson. Those influences remain in the
percolating rhythms of "Bend" or the enormous musculature of "Stadium
Jazz," inevitable how deeply ingrained they are into McCaslin's
approach. But he wasted little time casting back into the past for
inspiration on this outing, looking instead to ground-breaking
Chief among them is Aphex Twin, the
pseudonym of highly influential British electronica musician Richard D.
James. "Aphex Twin really affected the way I wrote for this album,"
McCaslin says. "I was attracted to the way he uses really simple melodic
ideas with all the activity happening in the drum programming. He's got
a palette of ambient sound, there's a textural backdrop, the melodic
elements are sparse and the beat is really intense. I wanted to try to
write some stuff coming from that feeling."
completely through-composed title track bears out that influence
strongly. McCaslin plays the tune's yearning, serpentine melody through
its permutations, but the rhythm section constantly evolves and expands
throughout the piece, with Lindner enveloping them in evocative sonic
textures. "Love Song for an Echo" expands further on the concept,
maintaining the notion of spare melodic material coupled with vigorous
rhythmic activity, but embellishes that idea with rich harmonies and
results are evident throughout Casting for Gravity, as the quartet
swells into luxurious electronic environments, but navigates within that
sonic sphere with lithe, incisive blowing. The cohesiveness of the
band's sound is the result of an extensive touring schedule prior to
recording, a rarity in the modern jazz landscape.
and Guiliana played on Perpetual Motion and continued to development
that music live with McCaslin in the ensuing months. It was during those
gigs that LeFebvre's strong dub influences emerged, a direction that
resonated with McCaslin and that he strove to encourage through his
writing for the band. "Santa Cruz, where I grew up, was a hotspot in
terms of reggae," McCaslin says. "When I was a kid I got to see Jimmy
Cliff, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear, Mighty Diamonds, Black Uhuru - that
music was popular in the culture there. So when Tim started pulling out
the dub thing it reminded me of my love for that music."
sound emerges in tunes like "Says Who," where McCaslin left the
composition open enough that the dub elements emerge organically within a
piece that also bears traces of American folk, elastic Weather
Report-style fusion, and a crushing finale that suggests the
experimental Swedish metal band Meshuggah. It also accents the slinky,
Meshell Ndegecello-esque groove of "Losing Track of Daytime," which
eventually opens up into an aspirational melody reminiscent of Aaron
Lindner and Guiliana are bandmates in the
electro-groove trio Now vs. Now, which led McCaslin to the
keyboardist/bandleader for a gig at the European Jazz Baltica festival.
"Jason is an amazing writer and orchestrator and improviser," McCaslin
raves, "but sonically he's so organic. I've loved Jason's writing for a
long time, so I thought this was my opportunity to play with him more."
wide-ranging palette that Lindner offer is one key to the album's
sound, from the pounding piano rock of "Stadium Jazz" (named for a
Guiliana joke aptly referring to the quartet's robust noise) to the
glitchy stabs of "Tension," penned in a successful attempt to represent
jagged emotion through music. It's a feeling that McCaslin is all too
intimate with considering he now has two young children at home, though
the more idyllic nature of family life is depicted in the album's joyous
closer, "Henry," written for his infant son.
David Binney contributed the blissful "Praia Grande," named for the
Portuguese beach where it was composed. A longtime friend and
collaborator, Binney has produced most of McCaslin's records and was
more integral than ever before in this effort. "David was deeply
involved in the whole record and had a huge impact on it," McCaslin
says. "He pushed me to really go for it, to make a really landmark
The effort paid off, with an album that truly breaks new
ground not just for McCaslin but for integrating modern musical genres
seamlessly into envelope-pushing jazz. The saxophonist has long been one
of the music's most striking voices, leading to long-running
collaborations with innovators like Dave Douglas and Maria Schneider.
His own solo work has been marked by a restless exploration that is only
accelerated with this latest release.
Bio #2...Short Bio