After all these years, there are still some piano-loving jazz enthusiasts who resist the saxophone trio; they have a hard time getting into pianoless recordings that consist of only sax, acoustic bass, and drums. But as undeniably valuable as the piano has been to jazz, saxophone trios have a long history of doing exciting things. Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Branford Marsalis, Joe Lovano, and Ivo Perelman are among the many saxophonists who have excelled in a trio format, and that format definitely works nicely for Donny McCaslin on Recommended Tools. This February 2008 session finds the California-born tenor man forming a pianoless trio with acoustic bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Jonathan Blake; alto saxophonist Dave Binney produced Recommended Tools, and trumpeter Dave Douglas is the executive producer (although neither Binney nor Douglas actually play on the album). McCaslin enjoys a strong rapport with Glawischnig and Blake, and the influences that have served McCaslin well in the past (including Michael Brecker, Coltrane, Rollins, and Henderson, among others) continue to serve him well on Recommended Tools. But McCaslin (who was 41 when this 65-minute post-bop disc was recorded) is his own man; that is evident on his own compositions as well as Billy Strayhorn's "Isfahan," which is the only song on Recommended Tools that McCaslin didn't write. Recommended Tools doesn't go out of its way to be accessible; the album on the whole tends to be angular, cerebral, and abstract. But for those who don't demand instant gratification from music, McCaslin's trio performances with Glawischnig and Blake have a lot to offer. And while Recommended Tools isn't McCaslin's most essential release, it is a respectable demonstration of how effective the trio format can be for a skillful saxophonist.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson