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Donny McCaslin – Beyond Now

January 8, 2017

What is jazz?  Joni Mitchell’s late 70s albums are jazzy, but her 1979 release Mingus is jazz. David Bowie’s grand farewell, Blackstar, is jazzy.  Blackstar bandleader Donny McCaslin’s Beyond Now is jazz.

Beyond Now is deeply haunted by Bowie. It is both a companion to Bowie’s Blackstar and a standalone work.

McCaslin’s band reminds me a lot of Weather Report.  It is not derivative or imitative of Weather Report, but it is:

  • A sax and keys based combo
  • Jazz/rock fusion
  • Orchestral (with a only handful of instruments)
  • Not confined by boundaries.

At times,it sounds like LCD Sound System (“A Small Plot Of Land” – which is actually a Bowie cover), punk (e.g. FACEPLANT) and ECM fusion (most of the rest).

Per McCaslin’s website the Bowie connection started like this:

The once in a lifetime opportunity to work with David Bowie came after composer Maria Schneider, a longtime collaborator, recommended McCaslin and his group to Bowie. Schneider and Bowie were collaborating on the track “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime),” which featured McCaslin as a soloist. In June 2014, Bowie heeded Schneider’s advice and made a visit to hear McCaslin and company at the 55 Bar in Greenwich Village. Soon after, Bowie began corresponding with McCaslin over email and sending music, forming a new collaboration and friendship that transpired through the recording of Blackstar until Bowie’s passing. The result is Beyond Now, which documents “David Bowie’s Last Band” as they were processing both their grief and Bowie’s distinctive impact.

I have been listening to the album for several days now and it gets better with each listen. If you liked Bowie’s Blackstar you will likely enjoy this. If you are a fan of 70s jazz/rock fusion (with some serious saxophone shredding) and you are open to a contemporary update on that concept – check this out.

So back to the original question, what is jazz?  Is it improvisation?  Is it clichéd  instruments (e.g. horns)? Is it sophisticated blues? Is it black? Is it free or bound by rules?  I suggest it is undefinable or as one of my jazz heroes (Pat Metheny) says –  jazz is a verb:

I have to admit that more and more lately, the whole idea of jazz as an idiom is one that I’ve completely rejected. I just don’t see it as an idiomatic thing any more…To me, if jazz is anything, it’s a process, and maybe a verb, but it’s not a thing. It’s a form that demands that you bring to it things that are valuable to you, that are personal to you. That, for me, is a pretty serious distinction that doesn’t have anything to do with blues, or swing, or any of these other things that tend to be listed as essentials in order for music to be jazz with a capital J.

Donny McCaslin and band are an action word. I can’t think of a better Bowie tribute than this album.


From → Music Reviews

  1. Seen this and had to jump into 2017. You sold me on this with the “Weather report, Sax shredding” bits

    • Make sure you listen to Bowie’s Bigstar before digging into this. Required context

      • I’ve heard you say or maybe I’m mistaken that you’re not big on Bowie. Is it McCaslin’s work on this one? I remember Stevie Ray Vaughn got some love with Bowie’s ‘Lets Dance’. Just never got on that train. I do like the ‘Heroes’ album though..

      • I am a minor Bowie fan. But I was a big fan of the new album. McCaslin’s band was the band on that last Bowie record. Here was my obit

      • Hear you loud and clear. Read your pieces on the album and the RIP (love the Foghat argument, I heard a few similar over the years about different artists. You had me smiling). Your review on ‘Blackstar’ are the kind of takes that get my attention (and why I like your style). I’ve had my mind opened up to people I don’t usually listen to a few times. This sounds like one of them. The reason I liked the ‘Heroes ‘ record and a couple others was the Eno/Fripp connection. Thanks Axl maybe I will add to my Bowie collection.

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