Donny McCaslin

Seen from Above

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Donny McCaslin is a versatile tenor saxophonist whose second release as a leader exhibits steady growth and imagination in abundance. Together with sidemen Ben Monder on guitar, Scott Colley on bass, and Jim Black on drums, McCaslin plays his heart out on some very invigorating original music. His rock influences come to the fore on numbers like "Manresa," the Scofield-esque "Second Line Sally," and the frenetic "Mick Gee." Jim Black is particularly fiery on these tracks - nailing the pocket at every moment but filling with abandon and getting a huge sound from his drums. Monder pushes the tunes over the top with his use of heavy distortion. "Going to the Territory" is more laid-back but very much in a funk-rock mold; Colley and Black still give even the most rocking moments a jazz-like openness. This extraordinary rhythm team lends a similar looseness and flexibility to the off-kilter, swinging "Strange Pilgrim."

McCaslin is most lyrical and impassioned on the mellower, harmonically involved "Seen From Above" and the 3/4 ballad "These Were Palaces," which bears a passing resemblance to Monk's "Ugly Beauty." Wrapping up the album in straightahead jazz mode, McCaslin offers the uptempo "Frontiers" and a tenor/bass duo reading of Kurt Weill's "September Song." Whether playing a standard like this or one of his own daring compositions, McCaslin is equally at home, conversant with the tradition but forging his own compositional and instrumental voice.

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