Donny McCaslin

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If you think tenor and soprano saxophonist Donny McCaslin's clear, robust tone and surprisingly inventive sense of melody sound familiar, it may be because he's been knocking you out with his solos as a member of the Maria Schneider Orchestra for the past couple of years (and notably on her recently reissued CD Concert in the Garden, on which he played a solo that garnered him a Grammy nomination). On his first album for Criss Cross as a leader, he offers a program of seven originals plus one well-chosen Thelonious Monk number, and shows what a fine composer he is as well. McCaslin writes complex and sometimes knotty progressions, but his melodies are generally accessible, even joyful, and on tracks like "Outlaw" and the strutting "Scrappy" he dances around the rhythm in ways that only someone with an absolutely rock-solid sense of time could get away with. There are sections of "Doom Fuss" that sound almost 12-tone, whereas the (unfortunately) aptly titled "Drift" seems to cut loose of its moorings somewhat and wander aimlessly. McCaslin's genius move was choosing to end the program with Monk's "Eronel," which he renders here with an unusual tenderness, downplaying Monk's harmonic quirkiness in favor of the tune's achingly sentimental melody. It's a touching finale to a very satisfying album.

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