Tenor superstar Donny McCaslin returns to the Wexner Center next week with his quartet at 8 pm Wednesday, April 19 (tickets available here). A semi-frequent visitor to the Wexner Center, he returns with Mark Guiliana still holding down the drum chair in the quartet he brought in 2012, with five years of honing their unique, simpatico bond under their belts. For more info about the artists and videos, continue reading after the jump.
There’s been a lot of deserved discussion of McCaslin’s work with David Bowie – and this writer was among those who listened to Blackstar more than any Bowie record that had come out in 20 years. It’s a beguiling record that’s still revealing secrets over a year after its release and promises to unfold for decades. It never uses jazz as an afterthought but integrates its precepts and language in a way Bowie’s love of the genre had never before managed. Some of the best writing in that regard I’ve found came from the Wex’s own Ryan Shafer and Andy Greene for Rolling Stone.
McCaslin’s horn burns brightly in any context you can place it. His implacable rhythmic sense even as he luxuriates in a melody is a fundamental component to some of the best records by the Maria Schneider Orchestra, the Dave Douglas Quintet, Joel Harrison and so many others. His intense curiosity and desire to follow his interests wherever they lead him at the moment while digging ever deeper into these new modes of playing and influences make his records as a leader must-haves.
He began incorporating electronics in earnest in 2012 with Casting for Gravity and followed that with Fast Future in 2015 and this year’s Beyond Now. With every record that synthesis of elements comes more into its own, the parts welded together in a fascinating, unique way. When I wrote about Fast Future for Agit Reader, I said “This record has a peripatetic quality, rushing from place to place with wild abandon, but also bears a love of decay. It revels in moments of calm and the fluidity of time, as notes and textures dissolve into one another.” Of the Aphex Twin cover on that record, I commented, “Some of the most delightful, delirious playing from the rhythm section, [is] Lindner taking a stronger rhythmic role than the coloring he brings to much of the record and Lefebvre and Guiliana finish each other’s phrases. This all happens under McCaslin’s diamond-hard skronk, with everyone goading everyone on.”
A year and a half on, that record still intoxicates me and keeps me coming back. The new one, Beyond Now, feels like a step forward in every direction at once. The two Bowie covers eschew his “standards” for a lovely reinvention of “A Small Plot of Land” (off the underrated Outside) and deliriously explode “Warszawa” from his classic Low. But it’s the originals – the shrieking anthem of “Glory” and the simmering, shifting title track – that grabbed me by the throat.
Mark Guiliana – whose “Beats Music” project has gotten wide-ranging acclaim and wowed Wex audiences in his duo with Brad Mehldau some years ago – has always been the rhythmic engine driving these electronic-leaning experiments. There’s an ease to his playing and a sense of using every piece of his toolkit: playing jester, colorist, and party-starter, sometimes with barely a second’s turn-around. Jason Lindner’s keys are the perfect foil for McCaslin. Lindner understands mood but has no fear of providing a growling, challenging other voice, melting melodies in the crucible of his playing and chopping rhythms at a surprising but ineffably right angle. Anyone who saw bassist Nate Wood with the collaboration of his band Kneebody and electronic artist Daedalus (as Kneedalus) knows how gorgeous his playing works straddling the electronic, prog and jazz worlds.
For someone looking to take the pulse of deep modernism, this show is not to be missed.