This weekend is the 2013 Winter Jazz Fest. If you’re having difficulty deciding what to attend amidst the collage of insane talent splattering lower Manhattan, consider heading to Zinc Bar at 8pm on Saturday to hear Donny McCaslin’s latest project. I sat front row early last month at the Jazz Standard, and was nearly knocked down by McCaslin’s “gargantuan” sound. The group performed selections from his latest record, Casting For Gravity, supported by Jason Linder, keyboards; Tim Lefebvre, bass; and Mark Guiliana, drums.
The record is a commanding piece of sonic aggression and riveting rhythm. Stadium Jazz. The audience the night I attended seemed to be split: about half were 20-somethings prepared for ultimate mind-blowage, while the other half had presumptuously come out to hear some jazz at a nice club. The set list: 1. Says Who // 2. Love Song For An Echo // 3. Tension // 4. Henry // 5. Paria Grande.
McCaslin grew up in Santa Cruz, California absorbing a mix of funk (Tower of Power) and the drum and bass (Aphex Twin). Lately, the saxophonist has been morphing these two balls-to-the-wall aesthetics with modern, often angular jazz. Highlights on the record include a Boards of Canada cover and a tune written by producer/saxophonist David Binney entitled “Praia Grande” named for the Portuguese beach where it was composed. Casting For Gravity is, in many ways, a sequel to Perpetual Motion (2011) and an extension of his working relationship with Binney. And like Binney’s own playing, McCaslin’s saxophone soars atop a harmonic and rhythmic rodeo of twisted grooves and contemplative ballads.
McCaslin’s electronic influenced writing forces him out of his comfort zone, but Lefebvre and Guiliana are right at home. Mark Guiliana has molded his career around his superhuman drum capabilities: compounding meters, energetic robotic textures, and aggressive and suspenseful beat drops. Such drops brought orgasmic “ohhs” from a 10-seater table of students from the Collective School of Music. Jason Linder performs regularly with Guiliana—they’re 2/3 of the group Now vs. Now—and the keyboardist will be making two other appearances this Saturday including a set with Omer Avital at 10:30pm at Zinc Bar, and a midnight set at the Cultural Project Theater with his band Breeding Ground.
Tim Lefebrve is nothing short of a bass beast. His resume contains acts from the underground drum and bass duo Louis Cole and Genevieve Artadi, to pop-jazz artists Chris Botti and Donald Fagen. When Lefebvre moved his home base from NYC to Los Angeles, bassist Chris Morissey filled his shoes in Guiliana’s band Beat Music (also featuring Linder). Morissey sat next to me and described McCaslin’s dynamic as “beautiful, soulful shredding.” Morissey continued by saying that “everyone [in the band] was playing with their tongues hanging out of their mouths and not with any of that pussyfooting ‘serve the song’ bullshit that could turn that instrumentation into something else entirely.” Morissey, a forward thinking musician who leads two of his own groups, can appreciate a “fearlessness and a trust in [Donny’s] band-leading. It’s a lot harder than it sounds.” It’s worth noting that also in the crowd at the Standard was one of the band’s closest colleagues, woodwind extraordinaire, Anat Cohen.
Donny’s quartet toured extensively before tracking Casting For Gravity. “It feels like we’re breaking a part the songs in a new way,” Linder reflected after the set. “The songs he wrote are conducive to growing.” Experience the growth of this band, and many others this weekend at Winter Jazz Fest, and catch McCaslin on the road:
February 5, 2013 / Blue Wisp / Cincinnati, OH
February 6 & 7, 2013 / Indiana University / Bloomington, IN
February 8 & 9, 2013 / The Green Mill / Chicago, IL
February 15 & 16, 2013 / Tallcorn Jazz Fest / Cedar Falls, IA
February 22 & 23, 2013 / Holland Performing Arts Center / Omaha, NE
March 2, 2013 / San Joaquin Valley Jazz Fest / Fresno, CA
March 4, 2013 / Kuumbwa Jazz Center / Santa Cruz, CA
April 1-4, 2013 / University of North Florida / Jacksonville, FL