When tenor and soprano saxophonist Donny McCaslin and his group—keyboardist Jason Lindner, bassist Jonathan Maron, and drummer Zach Danziger—take the stage at Zankel Hall, it’s a sure bet that at least some in the audience will be there because of David Bowie. For Blackstar, the final album recorded by the late rock chameleon, Bowie called upon McCaslin for musical support, and suddenly the California-born, Brooklynbased musician found himself enjoying a major uptick in recognition—after more than 30 years in the business.
“That whole experience of working on Blackstar has meant a lot more exposure for me outside of the jazz world and outside of the jazz press,” McCaslin says.
Donny McCaslin photo by Jimmy King.
Following Bowie’s death, McCaslin dedicated his next—and most recent—album, Beyond Now, to the man he calls “a visionary artist.” Bowie, he says, “was fearless and constantly evolving and changing and pushing the boundaries, musically and artistically. Those are all things that I strive for, and to work with someone who embodies that is inspiring. He was really present and engaged in every moment at every level of the process. Also, he was very generous of spirit, a great human being.”
McCaslin says that he may include a Bowie song in his Zankel set, but he expects that the show will consist primarily of material from Beyond Now, as well as new music he’s writing especially for the occasion.
His longtime fans won’t be surprised if those new tunes take McCaslin into musical areas he hasn’t investigated before: Since he began playing professionally, he’s never been content to stay in one place artistically for very long. During a career that initially found him serving as a member of vibraphonist Gary Burton’s band and the critically acclaimed Steps Ahead before going off on his own, McCaslin has displayed a hunger for growth and change.
“I’m focused on what’s in front of me,” he says, “always looking at what I can do to grow as an artist and as a musician. I have evolved over the years, no question.” That truth becomes apparent while listening back to the dozen albums McCaslin has recorded as a leader since the late 1990s. During the past several years, in fact, he’s made some of his most pronounced stylistic shifts with the incorporation of electronica into his sound.
“It was my producer, David Binney, who said I should consider doing an electric record,” says McCaslin. “What was really attractive about electronica to me was the sonic landscapes and the rhythmic activity that are present. As we were making Beyond Now, I was listening to a lot of deadmau5, Kendrick Lamar, and Aphex Twin, plus all the music we had recorded with Bowie was still kind of fresh in my mind. Now I’m thinking about what’s coming next. I have ideas,” he says. “I’m just trying to find the time to work them out.”
—Jeff Tamarkin is a veteran music journalist.
|Saturday, April 1 at 9 PM
Donny McCaslin’s intense, high-flying saxophone playing spearheads an exciting electro-acoustic quartet that busts through boundaries that separate jazz and electronica.