Review by Brad Walseth
From the moment Donny McCaslin's tenor sax kicks in over the African-styled rhythm section of Antonio Sanchez and Pernell Saturino on album opener "A Brief Tale" the listener knows he's in for a wild and most enjoyable ride. By the time the final track - the marvelous "Festival in 3 Parts," finishes you will want to pick yourself up off the floor and journey to NYC and to places like the 55 Bar, where something amazing seems to be happening in the jazz world, with players like McCaslin and his cohorts, along with others like keyboardist Craig Taborn & Dan Weiss, sax phenom Chris Potter, and of course alto saxophonist supreme, David Binney, who also produced this album for his friend and fellow musician McCaslin. Following the same Latin-inspired direction that made last year's "Soar" a critical success, McCaslin, Binney and these incredible musicians have created a follow up of fiery brilliance that is sure to make several top-ten lists before all is said and done.
The playing by all parties throughout the album, is inspired. The aforementioned rhythm section clearly relishes playing together and playing this music in support of the soloists. Drummer Sanchez and percussionist Saturino work together as one unit — reminding me somewhat of the best rhythm sections of Weather Report , and bassist Scott Colley is quite simply at the top of his game, with some burning solo work on "Descarga." Guitarist Ben Monder is always a pleasure, but here he seems even to outdo himself with textured playing ranging from straight ahead jazz, to melodic washes, to burning fusion-esque forays, to West-African inspired plucking. Binney's production is exceptional and brings the musicians' creativity to life in fully dimensional sound that literally leaps out of the speakers at you.
The musical interplay is superb, and there are moments of supreme beauty, such as in "Sea of Expectancy," to go with all the cooking. But in the end, it is the saxophone soloists who will leave you breathless in awe. McCaslin is a brilliant light ascending to the top of the jazz scene, and he burns throughout, melting so many lesser players in his wake with his intelligent, creative and sheer mind-bending solo turns. The young tenor (and flautist) takes the well-worn and often cliche-ridden sax solo into new, exciting and surprising directions, and his sheets of notes cascade in modern and melodic streams of sound that will enchant and astonish the listener.
This recording features exceptional songwriting, playing and production, but the highlight, however, for me is when McCaslin and Binney trade off solos on "Madonna." Taking turns walking, or should I say galloping across a highwire, this song features some of the most impossible soloing ever put on record. Creating near-lightspeed runs that teeter precariously on the edge, then ease back to safety in breathtaking fashion, the two saxophone stars are a perfect foil for one another. Let's hope this team stays together and produces more of some of the most beautiful and exciting modern jazz music for years to come.