Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

This is the 1st of your 3 free articles

Become a member for unlimited website access and more.

FREE TRIAL Available!

Learn More

Already a member? Sign in to continue reading

Donny McCaslin: Casting for Gravity

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.

Donny McCaslin always comes across as a tenor saxophonist with a strong musical personality that he uses to push himself into creative situations. For his 10th album as a leader, he absorbed influence from two electronica acts, Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada. The quality McCaslin hoped to appropriate from them related to the way textural backdrops can combine with straightforward melodic elements. With keyboardist Jason Lindner, drummer Mark Guiliana and bassist Tim Lefebvre, all musicians with electro-groove experience, McCaslin has an empathetic quartet.

To anyone not hip to the artists referenced above, Casting for Gravity will sound like an excursion into modern fusion, where atmosphere often becomes the prime focus. While the best examples of this style actually do fuse jazz and rock elements in an intense manner, the music can often fall victim to showcasing the players’ chops over trite, ad nauseam riffing. That happens on several tracks in which McCaslin blows one- or two-note melodies that grate after a few repetitions. A cover of Boards of Canada’s “Alpha and Omega” is little more than a Philip Glass-like sax line with an off-kilter countermelody from Lindner.

But McCaslin saves the album from completely digressing into mere riffs-and-ambience because he leaves himself a good deal of blowing room. “Tension” and “Stadium Jazz,” with their askew yet heavy grooves, are essentially launching pads for his muscular tenor. And the yearning “Praia Grande,” written by producer David Binney, is an ideal commingling of atmosphere, melody and improvisation.

Originally Published