Donny McCaslin: Perpetual Motion

The protean tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin touches down on numerous musical platforms on this bristling disc. There’s his probing, modernist “Five Hands Down,” the squirmy space-funk of “Memphis Redux,” and “Firefly,” a deep, pensive cut that begins as a ballad but evolves into something far more churchy thanks to Adam Benjamin’s Fender Rhodes and David Binney’s haunting electronics. Perpetual Motion is fiercely contemporary and exploratory, though not so abstract as to be inaccessible. Binney’s electronica elements and sparkling production evoke hard rock and pop, and those Rhodes timbres, as delivered by Benjamin or Uri Caine, point to fusion. Alternating drummers Antonio Sanchez and Mark Guiliana and bassist Tim Lefebvre propel the album, and the sequencing always honors surprise.

The long tracks are busy, dense with the kind of jazz twists and rock turns listeners became attuned to in the electric Miles and Mahavishnu groups. Dive into “L.Z.C.M.” for the toughest funk-based foray. An homage to influences Led Zeppelin and Christian McBride, it evokes the Herbie Hancock of “Future Shock” while establishing its own groove: The rhythm section is mighty here; McCaslin fatback, jagged and fleet. The man digs into the material, no question, and never runs out of ideas-or passion.

Two tracks give this rich album unexpected depth: the pell-mell, exuberant soundclash “East Bay Grit,” which flashes by in a half-minute, and Caine’s “For Someone,” the haunting ballad that caps the outing. The peacefulness is welcome, since the turbulent trip preceding it is a blast.

Originally Published