The congas-and-tenor conversation that opens Soar kicks things off in high gear. “Tanya,” a Panamanian folk song, is marked by some remarkably fast tonguing from tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin, who doesn’t seem to break for air throughout the song’s three minutes. Conguero Pernell Saturnino fuels the fire, too, as he does on most of the disc. But despite Saturnino’s presence, and the wordless vocals of Luciana Souza acting as a second instrument on half the album, Soar is less a Latin jazz album than an album with Latin elements that doesn’t lend itself to easy description. Time is better spent listening than analyzing anyway.
For his fifth album as a leader, McCaslin splits his time almost evenly between rhythmic workouts like “Be Love” or “Push Up the Sky” and appealing ballads like “Hero as a Boy” (whose uncertain melody could be mistaken for a Radiohead song) and “Laid Bare.” McCaslin isn’t afraid of overdubbing if it adds to the ambience. Several tracks feature his own voice adding to the melody, and he plays flute and alto flute on “Be Love” and “Merjorana Tonosieña,” another Panamanian folk song, which closes the album. Guitarist Ben Monder contributes his typically understanding-cum-spellbinding solos and works well together with bassist Scott Colley, drummer Antonio Sanchez and pianist Orrin Evans.