ENRG @ ED JAZZ FEST: Donny McCaslin

Donny McCaslin (Credit: Press)

The music on offer at this year’s Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival has certainly been varied; from the purest side of jazz that is still very much in touch with Mingus, Coltrane, and Davis, to the more experimental material that freely mixes a plethora of styles.

The phrase “end of genre” has come to mind at many gigs over the last week, and it was again to the fore at last night’s Donny McCaslin show at Teviot House.

McCaslin, of course, shot to pretty much worldwide fame and acclaim after recording what became David Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, back in early 2016.

Up to that point, McCaslin had been one of New York’s foremost jazz musicians, producing a string of highly-acclaimed, often Grammy-nominated fairly straight-ahead jazz records featuring the cream of the jazz crop, such as drummer Mark Guiliana.

Post-Bowie, McCaslin has released a couple of albums – Beyond Now in 2016, and last year’s Blow – and what’s becoming increasingly apparent is the great rock star’s burgeoning influence on the tenor saxophonist. How could it be otherwise?

Last night’s gig was essentially a rock show with jazz tinges and featured the core band that worked on Blow – vocalist / guitarist Jeff Taylor, Jason Lindner on keys, bassist Tim Lefebvre, and Zach Danziger on drums. They produced some tight, skilled playing with McCaslin being very much part of the band rather than the star man.

Indeed, he shared the spotlight, especially with Taylor, who is very much a frontman from the indie rock idiom and not what you tend to encounter at a “jazz” show. But then, despite the circumstances, this wasn’t a jazz gig; it was art pop laced with some heavy prog passages, lots of vocals, and the odd jazzy refrain. No problem with that, and the sell-out audience pretty much lapped it up.

For me though, the highlight of the evening was the most jazz-focussed cut, Shake Loose (from Beyond Now), which featured some really lovely interplay between the core Blackstar band of McCaslin, Lefebvre and Lindner. Things also seemed to work best when Danziger injected a more beats-based approach into proceedings.

The rousing encore of Bowie’s Look Back In Anger (from the 1979 album Lodger) brought the show to a fitting high-octane climax and earned pretty much a standing ovation.

It was an entertaining show, and a pleasure to see a musical style evolving right before your eyes.

By Allan Boughey