A good portion of us in the front row weren’t there by accident. One year and five months ago, David Bowie released what would be his final album, Blackstar, which Donny McCaslin played on. Now, we get a chance to channel Bowie himself, when he sat in 55 Bar and heard Donny for the first time. It’s a beautiful set, backed by Jason Lindner on keyboards, Jonathan Maron on bass, and Zach Danziger on drums.
There’s alchemy at play from the first song, Fast Future. Donny claps his hands, hearing something while the group play anything but. Yet, Donny couldn’t be happier. His saxophone looks like old brass, an imposing instrument that looks lifted from the 40s film studio recording score for a film noir.
After Glory and Beast (which he explains is his musical reaction to the current political climate), the group take on two Bowie covers in two phenomenal renditions. Warszawa is majestic – a deep, riveting sound that turns the familiar into the unfathomable (ly good). Look Back in Anger was a passionate cover, agile and sonically belligerent in only the best way. Afterwards, a good portion of us in the front row were hollering in appreciation.
The final number, Memphis Redux was a surprising number, taking a few unexpected turns before finishing with Donny hitting ever stronger bursts from his sax until he near-lifted the roof. Admittedly, there was some disappointment in this session not including any Blackstar tracks, but what there was, was still special nevertheless. This was a fine group lead by a man who clearly gets a lot of joy from playing music, and it came through loud and clear.
Donny McCaslin Group
The Toff in Town, 252 Swanston Street, Melbourne
Performances: 2 – 3 June 2017
Image: Donny McCaslin – courtesy of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival
Review: David Collins