Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 16, No.4, 2017

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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
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David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nancy Snipper
Farzana Hassan
Daniel Charchuk
Samuel Burd
Andrée Lafontaine
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
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Serge Gamache Emanuel Pordes
Diane Gordon
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont
Marcel Dubois
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Jazz Contributors

Tommy Emmanuel
John Stetch
Susie Arioli
Coral Egan
Diana Krall
Stacey Kent
Carol Welsman
Aldo Romano
Denzal Sinclaire
Madeleine Peyroux
Bireli Lagrene
Sonido Isleño
Provost & Lachapelle
Kevin Breit
Sophie Milman
Annie Poulain
Badi Assad
Donato & Bouchard
Ingrid Jensen
John Roney
Russell Malone
David Binney
Kurt Rosenwinkel
Mimi Fox
Voo Doo Scat
Coral Egan
Martin Taylor
Jordan Officer
Melody Gardot
Jean Vanasse
Yves Léveillé
Sylvain Provost
Louciana Souza
Patricia Barber
Jill Barber
Corrine Bailey Rae
Chet Doxas
François Bourassa
Sylvain Luc
Neil Cowley
Marianne Trudel
Florence K
Terez Montcalm
Cyrus Chestnut
Tord Gustavsen
Sarah MK
Julie Lamontagne
Vincent Gagnon
Arioli & Officer
Jean Félix Mailloux
Becky Noble
Vijay Iyer
Lionel Loueke
Tia Fuller
Cécile McLorin Salvant
Emma Frank
Shai Maestro
Christine Jensen
Vincent Rehel
Kat Edmonson
Jaga Jazzist
Cline & Lage
Fred Hersch
Gregory Porter
Takuya Kuroda
Edmar Castaneda
2010 Montreal Guitar Show (Sylvan Luc)

Montreal Jazz Festival 2010







Piano Keyboard


by Robert J. Lewis

Featured artist: DONNY MCCASLIN



Donny McCaslin describes his collaboration with the late and great rock composer David Bowie (1947-2016) as one of the great privileges of his life. Whether that translates into the same for his decades-long, dedicated followers remains an open question. The wildly enthusiastic response to his just concluded Montreal International Jazz Festival concert doesn’t necessarily settle the matter.

Since the collaboration, McCaslin, in unchecked adoration mode, has been incorporating Bowie favourites as staples of his repertoire. The association has lent to his name significant cachet; he’s playing in significantly larger venues, and rather suddenly a somewhat known saxophonist (albeit highly respected by his peers), has become someone “not to be missed.”

Unapologetically basking in the long-time-coming adulation, McCaslin has arrived at a critical junction in his career where he should begin asking himself if it is in his long-term interest to be playing down to audience expectations (lap-dogging the rock concert applause) or up to the exigencies of posterity. I’m hopeful that he’ll decide that Bowie is a phase that he will soon raze.

When I first heard McCaslin at Montreal’s Jazz en Rafale (2014) festival, his at once remarkable and challenging soloing suggested that here is a serious musician who has staked out a position that asks the largest questions of jazz. By analogy, in the visual arts, the painter Paul Cezanne, looking into his crystal ball, feared that cubism and abstraction where going to peripheralize figurative painting. He saw it as his mission to preserve the latter while acknowledging the inevitability of the former. What resulted was a style of painting that used the geometry and wedges we associate with cubism, but brilliantly applied to figurative (recognizable) landscapes, still-lifes and portraits. With the weight of the future of painting on his back, Paul Cezanne became the founding father of modern painting (Post-Impressionism).

I propose that Donny McCaslin, in retrospect (anachronistically), finds (or found) himself in a similar situation as it concerns the evolution of jazz, which, beginning with Coltrane (expressionism) and Ornette Coleman (free jazz) took a major turn toward the abstract (conceptual) at the expense of melody. Like Cezanne in the visual arts, McCaslin, in the spirit of preserving the song in the solo, makes concessions to the near outer limits of modern jazz while never losing site of melody, no matter how far out a particular piece or solo might sound to the ear. It’s not just the sequences of notes we hear, but the mission underlying the notes that distinguishes his remarkable improvisations, of which there were only hints of in his 2017, Bowie-buoyed, Montreal Jazz festival concert.

Jazzing up Bowie is like jazzing up Bach: for many, it just doesn’t work once the novelty wears off. When McCaslin is on his game, his solos seem to bend and twist and squirm like living tissue fighting for its life, with the antibodies arriving in the disguise of melody, which grounds and unites both the musician and audience in the single task of preserving melody in the context of post-modern jazz. Along with David Binney, I can’t think of another player who so passionately and presciently represents that epic struggle, one which has not been adequately articulated by jazz's finest writers, many of whom are musicians in their own right.

Looking ahead, code for looking into the mirror, McCaslin has to decide (1) if it is in his best interest to wean himself from the tit of David Bowie, and (2) what will be his role in determining the future of jazz. It speaks to his extraordinary gifts that he is one of the very few musicians for whom this kind of momentous choice is an option.



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