Donny McCaslin: Blow

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Outside the New York jazz scene, Donny McCaslin is perhaps best-known as the hip saxophonist whose own electro-acoustic band became the sonic backbone of Blackstar, the remarkable final album from David Bowie. Blow is something like his 13th release as a leader and has already been described as “exhilarating art-rock” by one website which, based on some of the tracks here, is a fair assumption. It’s an album which also brings back members of the same group McCaslin assembled for the Bowie date (Lefebvre, Lindner and Guiliana) and is similarly audacious in its layering of live and programmed instrumentation against some edgy vocals and infectious rhythm tracks.

As wild tenor lines howl and sweep around the indie-charms of opener “What about the Body” or the Flaming Lips-like “New Kindness”, it quickly transpires that some of the new music McCaslin is serving up here owes as much to pop as it does bop. The catchy “Club Kidd”, horn-honking “Tempest” or odd-metered “Break the Bond” all manage to conceal any jazz influence and fans of McCaslin’s “Stadium Jazz” period or Guiliana’s Beat Music band will have to mentally have to strip away lots of treated vocal lines to hear anything remotely comparable to that jaw-dropping music. Which is a shame, as it’s during these tracks that the musicians on this record really shine and interplay naturally develops. 

Offering exactly what the title suggests, “Exactlyfourminutesofimprovisedmusic” also throws out some interesting ideas and dialogue, propelled along with a throbbing bass line, boxy drums, silly synth bleeps and McCaslin’s crazed honks. Unfortunately, though, it stands out more filler next to the fuller-sounding soul and hip-hop-inspired selections such as “The Opener” (featuring Sun Kil Moon) and the emotive “Eye of the Beholder” which, licked with slow, stunning tenor lines, quietly closes this muddled but often mesmerising set.

Discography
What about the Body; Club Kidd; Break the Bond; New Kindness; Exactlyfourminutesofimprovisedmusic; Tiny Kingdom; Great Destroyer; The Opener; Beast; Tempest; Eye of the Beholder (55.11)
McCaslin (ts, cl, f, g, v); Tim Lefebvre, Johnathan Maron (b); Jason Lindner (b, p, synth); Mark Guiliana, Nate Wood (d); Gail Ann Dorsey, Eren Cannata, Sun Kil Moon, Jeff Taylor (v); Steve Wall (prog, g); Ryan Dahle (g, v). NY/NJ/Vancouver, Canada 2018.
Motéma, number unknown