SCENE SEEN :: Donny McCaslin - Live at The Village Vanguard - by M.DeathWish


To play at the Village Vanguard in NYC is a dream for nearly every jazz musician in the world. More than a few of the best live Jazz albums ever made were recorded at this prestigious Greenwich Village venue. From the titans, Coltrane, Bill Evans, Elvin Jones and the like right down to many of today’s main players [Chris Potter, Marc Ribot, Brad Mehldau and MANY more], this stage has been the center of what’s happening both back in the day and what goes on with Jazz in the present tense. So it was with a good bit of excitement and appreciation that my guest and I headed out on an ice cold night - TUE.22.JAN and made our way across town to catch one of the most innovative and fresh voices in contemporary Jazz, Tenor Saxophonist, Donny McCaslin - and his Quartet.

Right now, I can’t think of a better quartet in Jazz. Collectively, the players backing Donny on this tour are pretty commonly referred to in many publications as, “… the David Bowie Blackstar band”, however – for those of us that have been feverishly listening along - they are far more than just that. On drums sat the masterful Mark Guiliana, who’s approach to drumming will be studied for decades. He is single-handedly inspiring an entire brand new generation of drummers, raised on today’s music in addition to the classics, to play in a style and with a finesse that treats the ear to a near-perfect blend of all the above styles [and then some]. Fearless, always willing to experiment and - most importantly - he ‘grooves’.

If you see his name as a leader or as a sideman – GO. Mark is one of the most exciting players in the scene.

The bass was held down that night held down by Tim Lefebvre. Tim’s excellent command of his instrument and FX pedals makes him one of the most in demand bass players out there. Tuesday was no exception, holding down the groove, never afraid to experiment or try something different. He elevates the group and gives them the freedom to explore as he is always listening and reacting to the inner dynamics of the others on the bandstand. Jason Linder - armed with an array of synthesizers, a custom Wurlitzer 140B and the house Steinway - - created a sonic texture that evokes mental imagery of what Dimension X must sound like. At one point I turned to my friend after an intense solo from Linder to remark, “He has to be an Alien”. Lastly, McCaslin and his Saxophone led with pure energy and with the use of FX pedals brought the overall language of the eve to another level.

It’s always refreshing to hear bands that are willing to experiment and push the limits of what music, let alone Jazz, is… In doing so, they help bring the sound closer and closer to what it could be. The band played 5 songs, including a few new pieces and material from an earlier record. With the passing of each tune, the rapt audience transcended up and on to yet another to a higher plane. Every note, twist and turn, the audience fully opened themselves to the band which in return did the same. There was never a dull moment as the band turned every song into a vehicle of expression. At times, McCaslin played with so much sheer power, that it felt like our faces were being ripped off by its sheer force. At one point, Linder took a solo that built up of so many layers from his keys you felt like an alien mothership might have landed right there in the Village. While the music went ‘out’ many times, you never felt lost - as Tim and Mark held the groove so tight, that we were all practically dancing in our seats. Listen… if you get an opportunity to see this line-up, or any of their individual names in their own projects  and/or as sidemen – GO. It will be your gift to YOU!!!

Donny McCaslin - Tenor Sax  :: @DonnyMcCaslinMusic
Jason Linder - Keys :: @FlyMySpcshp

Mark Guiliana - Drums :: @MarkGuiliana

Tim Lefebvre - Electric Bass :: @TimLefev

The Nonsemble