McCaslin, as a New York-based jazz saxophonist, gained greater notice after he and his group were picked by David Bowie to record “Blackstar,” Bowie’s final album, released two days before Bowie passed away in January, 2016. So, McCaslin’s “Beyond Now” was a blistering tribute to David Bowie.
McCaslin became a rising star as the tenor saxophonist of Dave Douglas’s Quintet, best heard on “Live at the Jazz Standard” (2006). He soon after became a leader embarking on a surprising foray mixing groovy 70s fusion jazz and experimental electronica ala the Aphex Twin, and the Boards of Canada.
McCaslin’s previous records weave together gritty and angular post-bop, ethereal ballads, polyphonic funky-rock grooves, and spurts of loose dissonance and electronica with an overall soaring musicianship, and on “Beyond Now,” this sound comes out clearest on “FACEPLANT” while the new sound, as an elegiac post-Blackstar project is a departure, or at least a different approach to a good thing anyway, just as Bowie shed his musical skin so consistently to keep himself on the mark.
McCaslin’s group on tour is first-rate with core members, including percussionist Mark Giuliani, Jason Linder on keyboards, Tim Lefebvre or Jonathan Maron on electric bass, and vocalist Jeff Taylor.
Taylor is used for the tracks from “Beyond Now” including “A Small Plot of Land,” which is a cover of a Bowie song from the lesser-known 1995 album, “Outside.” McCaslin’s version doesn’t even attempt to remake Bowie’s original into a jazz arrangement. Instead, it is a forceful song, an experimental pop-rock song just as Bowie strived to record at his peak on albums, like “Heroes,” or “Station to Station.”
Also on “Beyond Now” and a highlight of their live performances now is a cover of Bowie’s medieval-sounding electronica soundscape-chant “Warsawa,” from “Low.” This one best allows Guilliani to unleash his other persona as electronica wizard, for a warped, future jazz version of Bowie’s masterpiece co-written with Brian Eno. “Glory,” the last track on “Beyond Now” is the most heated counterpart to “Blackstar” but their optimistic joy in sound goes beyond Bowie’s soaring swan song.
Donny McCaslin and his group will be performing music from “Beyond Now” along with their newest music, debuting their album “Earthquaker’s Data Corrupter”—on tour in Europe till the end of May.
May 6, Sun – Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Cheltenham, UK
May 8, Tues – Maijazz, Stavanger, Norway
May 9, Wed – Trondheim Jazz Festival, Trondheim, Norway
May 15, Tues – Flagey, Brussels, Belguim
May 16, Wed – MC2, Grenoble, France
May 17, Thur – Cube 521, Maarnech, Luxembourg
May 18, Fri – Moods, Zurich, Switzerland
May 19, Sat – International Music Meeting Festival, Nijmegen, Netherlands
May 21, Mon – Palac Akropolis, Prague, Czech Republic
May 22, Tues – Theater Russelsheim, Russelsheim, Germany
May 23, Wed – Maison de la Culture, Amiens, France
Text: Tony Ozuna
Artist information, Photos credits and YT Video: Donny McCaslin - and (c) info: all rights go to original recording artist/owner/photographer(s).