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When: Sept. 24, 7:30 p.m.
Where: BlueShore Financial Centre for the Performing Arts, Capilano University, North Vancouver.
Tickets and info: $40 at tickets.capilanou.ca
Saxophonist Donny McCaslin gained international fame in 2016 following his work as band director on David Bowie’s final recording Blackstar.
But the impression that the talented jazz musician had come out of obscurity was far from the truth.
At age 12, he was already performing professionally in his vibraphonist father Don McCaslin’s big band as well as leading his own high school combo that played the Monterey Jazz Festival three times. He then went on to a full scholarship at Berklee College of Music, joining jazz star Gary Burton’s group upon graduating.
From there, he was involved in the legendary American jazz fusion unit Steps Ahead ensemble, whose membership reads like a history of modern jazz greats, and served tenures in trumpeter Dave Douglas’s quintet, composer Maria Schneider’s Jazz Orchestra, and played countless sessions ranging from Bobby McFerrin to Sun Kil Moon and many more.
The three-time Grammy nominee had a dozen albums to his credit before he ever blew a note for Bowie.
But his recordings since the Blackstar sessions, including 2023’s newly released I Want More, are deeply informed by that experience. McCaslin pursues a punk-jazz hybrid that hits hard and explores some seriously space-rock realms.
He talked about the recording before his Vancouver concert:
Q: It’s hardly that you were “discovered” after Blackstar, but it does seem to have shifted your sound from previous recordings?
A: It was a transformative moment in my life and its legacy is that it changed my thinking to not be afraid and let the danger come and inhabiting it. Things that didn’t seem possible before it suddenly did, and I had a lot more time performing with my band and having space to ruminate on how the music would be.
Q: Was bringing in celebrated rock producer David Fridmann part of that expanded vision as well?
A: Without at doubt, as that brought in his distinct sonic imprint to the creation as well. One aspect of I Want More is that there is a lot more collaboration between me and the band — bassist Tim Lefebvre, keyboardist Jason Lindner and drummer Mark Guiliana — which gave the music elements I hadn’t imagined. Then David would bring in his own unique touches.
Q: The thing that strikes me about songs, whether the more mellow Hold Me Tight or the lengthy ambient-toned title track, is how much room you give the material to breathe. This isn’t busy music, is it?
A: Sometimes it starts that way. Turbo started with my bass line and was all-in with everyone playing at the beginning, but then we winnowed out everything that didn’t seem necessary until it unfolded in this really beautiful, organic way. Because these guys are so good, I can be confident that they will always find space in the music.
Q: The video for Body Blow is fiercely rocking. Would you say that ‘hard’ fusion is making a comeback these days?
A: Body Blow is a drum-and-bass low end freakout that bristles with a punk energy that I love. We often play with that kind of an edge live. The set is mixing in stuff from I Want More, songs from Blackstar, some new material I’ve been working on, and a few older fan favourites, such as Stadium Jazz.
Q: You have a tie-in with the Vancouver indie rock scene. Tell us about it?
A: My last record Blow featured Ryan Dahle, who is a tremendous musician and an amazing songwriter, as a guest writer and singer. He did some touring with us and we totally hit it off, so now we have done an entire record of a new joint project that I’m really excited about. We’ll probably have a special preview of that at the end of the show as well.
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