Donny McCaslin – Fast Future [TrackList follows] – Greenleaf Music GRE-CD-1041, 55:31 [3/31/15] ****:
(Donny McCaslin – tenor saxophone; Jason Lindner – electric and acoustic guitar, piano, synthesizer; Tim Lefebvre – electric bass; Mark Guiliana – drums; David Binney – producer, vocals (track 2), additional synthesizer; Nina Geiger – vocals; Nate Wood – guitar, mixing, mastering; Jana Dagdagan – spoken word (track 6))
Saxophonist Donny McCaslin’s 11th release as leader, and fourth on Dave Douglas’ independent imprint Greenleaf, is well-named. The 55-minute Fast Future (which can be streamed here) explores a newer kind of fusion, blending post-bop with breakbeats, rhythms and tones from electronica and EDM (short for the dance-oriented genre, Electronic Dance Music). McCaslin is known for bending apart expectations, so it’s no surprise to hear thoroughly modern music on these ten tunes (eight written or co-composed by McCaslin). For want of a better description, some label this acoustic-electro. But you could call it future jazz, since that’s also appropriate and has been applied by other artists, such as the equally contemporary ensemble, Spin Marvel. McCaslin talks about his latest album during a promo video, where he discusses how his material came about; his band members’ interaction and improvisational engagement; and what inspired him. Fast Future reprises McCaslin’s structure from his 2012 record, Casting for Gravity (it garnered a Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental Jazz Solo for “Stadium Jazz”), which used the equivalent sort of acoustic-electro approach and utilizes the same personnel: McCaslin on tenor sax; keyboardist Jason Lindner (electric and acoustic piano; synth); electric bassist Tim Lefebvre and drummer Mark Guiliana. Along for the ride is producer David Binney (who adds vocalizations to one track, plus some synth); vocalist Nina Geiger; guitarist Nate Wood (who also did the mixing and mastering); and spoken word performer Jana Dagdagan.
Another element which McCaslin returns to on Fast Future is intriguing covers of electronica songs. On Casting for Gravity, McCaslin effectively re-did a groove-heavy Aphex Twin cut, and here he sets his interpretive skills to another Aphex Twin, the brief and frantic “54 Cymru Beats,” which is like a mutated, free-jazz deviation. More beats are twisted on “No Eyes,” which is by Baths (the alter-ego of Los Angeles-based electronica musician Will Wiesenfeld). This edgy piece moves in several directions, from a fusion-rimmed opening which has a Herbie Hancock-like funk predisposition; to copious horn action and Binney’s wordless melodies; to an ambient mid-section which courses with quietly simmering synth, breathy tenor sax noises, and progressive production techniques. Other compositions are correspondingly electronica-limned. “Underground City” is suffused with an electronic-sounding beat, created by Guiliana as he layers a vigorous rhythm and beat which goes beyond typical jazz and into drumming which is suggestive of machine-made percussion. Reggae and dub (essentially instrumental reggae with a deeper bass tone) saturates “Squeeze Thru,” which brings to mind McCaslin’s Santa Cruz, CA youth, when he would go see reggae icons such as Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh and others. During “Squeeze Thru,” McCaslin stays on an escalating jazz path, while everyone else traverses dub terrain, which provides a woozy, tilted tint.
Fast Future showcases a spectrum of invention. McCaslin and his band head into ballad territory on the plush “Midnight Light,” which has a late-evening vibe replete with beautiful, high tenor sax notes; Guiliana’s blossoming drum beat and Lefebvre’s similarly-inclined bass; and Lindner’s harmonically-rich acoustic piano. Another decidedly melodic number is “Love What Is Mortal,” which includes plenty of evocative tenor sax, an agile groove, and Dagdagan’s unexpected spoken-word segment. That component was Binney’s idea. He edited it into the cut without McCaslin’s input. When McCaslin heard it, he states, “I thought it was perfect.” Certainly, it puts even more uniqueness to an already unique CD. Fast Future is quite an experience. It has a malleable, nearly non-jazz tonality which is comprehensively different than the jazz norm, but wholly fits McCaslin’s aesthetic. Credit to producer Binney, who is a first-rate sonic manipulator and collaborator; as well as engineer Michael Marciano; and Wood.
TrackList: Fast Future; No Eyes; Love and Living; Midnight Light; 54 Cymru Beats; Love What Is Mortal; Underground City; This Side of the Sunrise; Blur; Squeeze Thru.