[JPL] Jazz With a Casual Urgency, Played in Support of Peace

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Thu Jun 14 17:49:00 EDT 2007


June 14, 2007
Music Review | Donny McCaslin
Jazz With a Casual Urgency, Played in Support of Peace

Since moving to New York in the early 1990s the tenor
saxophonist Donny McCaslin has built a reputation for
versatility, poise and a vigorous approach to
improvisation. Not coincidentally he now holds a
sideman post in two of the more prominent ensembles in
jazz, the Maria Schneider Orchestra and the Dave
Douglas Quintet. And he has been increasingly
productive as a bandleader, drawing from the well of
similarly broad-minded New York musicians and writing
music that suits their worldly ideals. 

At the Bowery Poetry Club on Tuesday night Mr.
McCaslin enlisted the bassist Hans Glawischnig and the
drummer Ted Poor. It wasn’t a working band, or even
the same one as on his impressive new album, “In
Pursuit” (Sunnyside). But the trio’s first set was
action packed, advancing a deceptively casual model of
interaction. At times there was a work-in-progress
feeling, but it wasn’t unwelcome. It was almost the

That was true, anyway, of two brand-new songs. Mr.
McCaslin introduced the first, “Eventual,” as his
response to the Gil Evans composition “Time of the
Barracudas,” which helped explain its brooding
ostinato and nearly static harmony. Something was
missing, though: a substantial melody, or a strong
instrumental foil. It wasn’t hard to imagine Mr.
McCaslin carving up the theme with the alto
saxophonist David Binney, a longtime colleague who
produced “In Pursuit” and its predecessor, “Soar.”

The second new tune, as yet untitled, began in a slow
6/4 meter, with harmonic undercurrents faintly
suggestive of a gospel hymn. Mr. McCaslin played the
melody near the low end of his register, in a warm and
supple tone. Yet it was during the song’s repetitive
coda, in an alternating pattern of six and five beats,
that he sounded most inspired, unfurling intricate
lines as if they were streamers, in great gusts of

A similar spirit of urgency enlivened the set’s
bookends, “Fast Brazil” and “Descarga.” Both are
byproducts of Mr. McCaslin’s sincere engagement with
Latin American rhythm, and he soloed commandingly on
each of them, counterbalancing his 16th-note flurries
with spontaneous riffs and stuttering syncopations. 

Mr. Poor was just as gripping a presence, especially
in his ability to ratchet up the intensity without a
corresponding increase in volume. When he finally
played a solo on “Descarga,” it was more fluttering
than percussive, even though he never eased up on the
groove. (Through much of the song he stamped a clave
pattern with his left foot.)

Proceeds from the evening went to the antiwar
organization United for Peace and Justice, as part of
a series called Jazz Means Peace. The audience was
sparse, and whether that says more about the peace
movement or the state of jazz is an open question. In
any case, the trio played with full commitment, and
Mr. McCaslin led the charge.

The next Jazz Means Peace event, featuring the poet
Eliot Katz accompanied by Jay Elfenbein on viola da
gamba, Russell Branca on bass, Mike Pinto on vibes and
Diego Voglino on drums, is Tuesday at 8 p.m. at the
Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery, near Bleecker Street,
East Village, (718) 843-0515. 


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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