You know those dreams where you find yourself standing naked in your high school cafeteria? Fronting a sax-trio disc is frighteningly similar‚ because you've literally got nowhere to hide. A versatile rhythm section that can double as a foil certainly helps‚ but at the end of the day‚ it's down to you whether the project succeeds or fails. On Recommended Tools‚ Donny McCaslin shows he has all the fearlessness this undertaking requires‚ and then some.
Although the renowned reedman has recorded as a leader‚ McCaslin is better known for sideman stints with Maria Schneider and Dave Douglas. (McCaslin's solo work on Schneider's Concert in the Garden garnered a Grammy nomination in 2004.) Working for artists who use so many shades and layers must be both rewarding and challenging. Even so‚ it had to be liberating for McCaslin to take his trio into a studio and just let it rip.
McCaslin seems to do very little on the opening of the title track‚ but that's an illusion. Blame the fact that his tenor lacks that broad‚ "traditional" approach. McCaslin's sound is closer to a halogen headlight -- the color's different from everything else on the road‚ and it cuts through the darkness like a samurai sword. There's a joyous quality about his lines as he fires off chorus after chorus‚ attacking the scales like a mountain goat traversing a rock face.
Hans Glawischnig and Johnathan Blake are definitely the "versatile rhythm section" referenced above: Blake's drums are delightfully crackling‚ and his counter-solo on "Excursion" easily matches McCaslin's wild explorations; Glawischnig bows along with McCaslin's pseudo-bari sax opening to "Margins of Solitude‚" creating a rumbling harmonic that should not be played near fault lines. The trio gives the unrequited love in Billy Strayhorn's "Isfahan" a knuckleball twist‚ and "Late Night Gospel" evokes a Mission at the end of a dark alley‚ offering shambling souls hot soup and a roof for the night.
Recommended Tools isn't perfect‚ but fun doesn't have to be perfect. McCaslin is definitely having fun here‚ no matter how abstract the music gets. Hey‚ being naked in the high school cafeteria doesn't mean you can't overturn some tables and "pants" a few jocks!
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