About Donny McCaslin
Acclaimed saxophonist Donny McCaslin takes a bold leap forward with his tenth album as a leader, Casting for Gravity. McCaslin’s gargantuan tenor sound finds an ideal setting to rampage through in the ferocious grooves and electronic textures of keyboardist Jason Lindner, bassist Tim Lefebvre, and drummer Mark Guiliana. Couching his trademark gift for brawny melodies in lurching dub rhythms, swirling electronica-inspired atmospheres, and arena-rock power, McCaslin has crafted a game-changer of an album, fusing a wealth of forward-looking influences into one wholly new modern jazz sound.
Casting for Gravity follows on the heels of 2011′s highly acclaimed Perpetual Motion, which found McCaslin experimenting for the first time with merging his hard-charging acoustic sound with more funk-inflected electrified elements. But where that album was a blistering electro-acoustic hybrid, Casting for Gravity soars past fusion into alchemy, forging a visionary voice from eclectic influences.
“I wanted to make a bigger record with more sonic layers,” McCaslin explains. “I wanted to go a lot deeper into the electronic realm and push myself harder.”
McCaslin’s initial forays into plugged-in territory were a reflection of his upbringing in Santa Cruz, California, where he was weaned on the deep, deep grooves of Tower of Power and Headhunters bassist Paul Jackson. Those influences remain in the percolating rhythms of “Bend” or the enormous musculature of “Stadium Jazz,” inevitable how deeply ingrained they are into McCaslin’s approach. But he wasted little time casting back into the past for inspiration on this outing, looking instead to ground-breaking contemporary artists.
Chief among them is Aphex Twin, the pseudonym of highly influential British electronica musician Richard D. James. “Aphex Twin really affected the way I wrote for this album,” McCaslin says. “I was attracted to the way he uses really simple melodic ideas with all the activity happening in the drum programming. He’s got a palette of ambient sound, there’s a textural backdrop, the melodic elements are sparse and the beat is really intense. I wanted to try to write some stuff coming from that feeling.”
The album’s completely through-composed title track bears out that influence strongly. McCaslin plays the tune’s yearning, serpentine melody through its permutations, but the rhythm section constantly evolves and expands throughout the piece, with Lindner enveloping them in evocative sonic textures. “Love Song for an Echo” expands further on the concept, maintaining the notion of spare melodic material coupled with vigorous rhythmic activity, but embellishes that idea with rich harmonies and improvisational invention.
The results are evident throughout Casting for Gravity, as the quartet swells into luxurious electronic environments, but navigates within that sonic sphere with lithe, incisive blowing. The cohesiveness of the band’s sound is the result of an extensive touring schedule prior to recording, a rarity in the modern jazz landscape.