With Blow., Donny McCaslin transitions from world-class jazz saxophonist to indie/art rock provocateur. The musician gained mainstream recognition from the rock world when his quartet collaborated on David Bowie's final album, Blackstar. While McCaslin's fascination with these sounds could be heard -- to a degree -- on 2015's Fast Future, its presence was felt more on Beyond Now, inspired by Bowie and cut just months after his death. The latter album offered a clue as to the direction McCaslin was traveling. Blow. brings back the saxist's quartet with drummer Mark Giuliana, bassist Tim Lefebvre, and keyboardist Jason Lindner, augmented by other rhythm section players and guitarists Ben Monder and Ryan Dahle. But what makes this transition to art rock complete is Steve Wall's production sensibility that favors sweeping dynamics, phased and gated guitars and drums, and a boatload of reverb, programmed drums, and more. In addition, eight of these 11 tracks feature vocals from four alternating lead singers who include Dahle, Mark Kozelek, Gayle Ann Dorsey (who also appeared on Blackstar), and Jeff Taylor (who sang "A Small Plot of Land" on Beyond Now).
Opener "What About the Body" juxtaposes multi-tracked tenor saxophones atop phased guitars, keys, and basslines propelled by a straight-up 4/4 rock beat. Dahle's heavily treated, layered vocals are delivered with impassioned determination and a declarative quality that recalls both Matthew Sweet and Gary Numan. McCaslin adds stacked flutes as the tune careens to a close. Single "Club Kidd" is an explosive art pop tune that melds wailing tenor sax, Wurlitzer, popping snares, ringing cymbals, and electric guitars as Dahle's vocals carry it over the top. While the instrumental "Break the Bond" commences its nine-plus-minute length with pulsing drums and bass, McCaslin's melodic tenor, Giuliana's syncopated breaks, off-kilter pianos, and Wurtlitzer gradually add layers of abstraction until it becomes something wholly other, falling apart before resurrecting itself in a squalling improvisational interlude that owes a debt to King Crimson's In the Wake of Poseidon. Kozelek's contribution is a rap in the brittle, mysterious cinematic post-electro "The Opener," but it only needs to be heard once. "Great Destroyer" stacks blissed-out vocal harmonies in a spacy glam pop melody, as McCaslin's harmonized horns, sweeping synths, guitars, and drum machines add texture and dimension. The instrumental "Beast," with its treated saxes and double- and triple-timed drums and zigzagging Wurlitzer, juxtaposes fusion with prog mayhem. Closer "Eye of the Beholder," delivered by Dorsey, is the equivalent of mutant 21st century soul in processional 4/4 time, with spacy keyboards, a bumping bassline, and McCaslin's tenor swooning at its expressive best. Those who expected Blow. to be McCaslin's return to jazz will likely be disappointed. That said, those who enjoy adventurous rock -- indie, prog, and otherwise -- will likely find the album to be greatly enjoyable and perhaps even revelatory.