Donny McCaslin Group | Green Mill | Jazz | Chicago Reader
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click to enlarge Donny McCaslin

Donny McCaslin

Forrest Dylan Bryant

Donny McCaslin Group 

When: Fri., Oct. 14, 9 p.m. and Sat., Oct. 15, 8 p.m. 2016
Price: $15
Veteran saxophonist Donny McCaslin and his crack band worked wonders with David Bowie on the singer’s final album, Blackstar (Columbia), providing a versatile and elastic attack that toggles between hard-hitting grooves and atmospheric environments. The group—which includes keyboardist Jason Lindner, electric bassist Tim Lefebvre, and drummer Mark Guiliana—has made a number of albums since forming about six years ago, each one further embracing dense, aggressive postfusion charged by the leader’s developing fondness for EDM. The thrust of McCaslin’s brand-new album, Beyond Now (Motema), is in line with the three recordings that preceded it, though the group’s covers of “Coelacanth 1” by Deadmau5 and “Remain” by Mutemath don’t say much for the leader’s taste in pop music. Beyond Now was recorded three months after Bowie’s death, and the Thin White Duke’s aura is omnipresent—McCaslin and company cover “Warszawa,” a brooding classic from Low, while their rendition of “A Small Plot of Land,” a lesser-known track from the 1995 album Outside, enlists Jeff Taylor to deliver Bowie-like singing. The production, by Dave Binney, summons a hard-edged sound, whether emphasizing the granitelike muscle of McCaslin’s tenor lines or the punishing aggression of Guiliana’s drumming—not to mention that Lefebvre’s bass on “Faceplant” could fit on an old hardcore record. But as strong as the playing is, the attack ultimately grows exhausting and lacks the dynamic richness and meticulous drama that Bowie could harness. Here’s hoping these tunes sound more oxygenated in the live setting. For this engagement Kneebody’s Nate Wood subs for Guiliana.
— Peter Margasak

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