Donny McCaslin, I Want More Review
Transcending Genres: The Audacious Artistry of Donny McCaslin’s I Want More
by Sylvannia Garutch
I Want More is Donny McCaslin’s bold and sincere album that makes a statement beyond genre as he reaches for and develops a visionary and robust sonic collection of eight songs. This is no small feat, considering McCaslin’s illustrious history in music, with a journey that stretches back to playing in his father’s band at the tender age of 12 and later to lending his saxophone skills to David Bowie’s critically acclaimed final album, Blackstar.
I Want More represents McCaslin’s audacious artistic aspiration and his insatiable appetite for musical exploration. Born in 1966 in Santa Clara, California, McCaslin’s celebrated musical journey stretches back to his early days playing in his father’s band, through his work with renowned bands and artists such as the Gil Evans Orchestra, Danilo Pérez, Maria Schneider, and the Dave Douglas Quintet. It even touches on the legendary David Bowie’s critically acclaimed final album, Blackstar, where McCaslin’s saxophone abilities shone brightly. With his level of versatility and adaptability, this relentless force in music has earned him three Grammys and a multitude of accolades, yet with I Want More, he transcends even his own high standards.
The album title, I Want More, reflects the vibrant, genre-defying soundscapes present in each of the album’s eight songs. Whether it’s the profoundly immersive “Stria” or the titular song “I Want More,” McCaslin weaves intricate melodies and plays with sounds that defy the traditional boundaries of jazz, resulting in a muscular sound that vibrates with a unique vitality.
Backed by an ensemble of top-notch musicians—Jason Lindner on synthesizers and Wurlitzer, Tim Lefebvre on bass, and Mark Guiliana on drums—McCaslin’s tenor saxophone and flutes shine like a beacon, leading the listener through an aural landscape that is both familiar and uncannily innovative. Each track is built by McCaslin’s commitment to pushing the envelope of creative expression, resulting in a sound that is as fresh as it is compelling.
The album’s production value is another way McCaslin creates his artistic vision. Produced by David Fridmann and mixed by both Fridmann and Steve Wall, the album is a balance of sound, where every note, every rhythm, and every pause has been meticulously crafted to create a seamless and drawing musical experience. The interplay between the musicians and their instruments is brought to life through the expert recording of Pete Min and Nolan Theiss, allowing the listener to hear every nuance of the creative process.
“Stria” introduces the listener to McCaslin’s innovative fusion of genres. The song opens with a rhythmic ostinato from McCaslin’s warm tenor saxophone, soon joined by the rest of the ensemble, creating an energetic theme. The composition boasts an intricate layering of feels, texture changes, and harmonic landing spots, all bound together by the ensemble’s unwavering commitment to groove. It’s a marriage of jazz’s rhythmic sophistication and the pulse of EDM, accentuated by the use of effects on McCaslin’s saxophone, resulting in an exciting and moving sound.
“Body Blow” embodies McCaslin’s power of genre integration. The track showcases jazz, EDM, and Middle Eastern melodic colors. The composition ebbs and flows through different feels, textures, and activities, all while maintaining a seamless and mesmerizing rhythmic groove. McCaslin’s tenor solo employs a range of effects, taking the listener on a journey through his melodic ideas shaped around sounds and forms. Each melodic idea flows into the next, creating an intriguing musical adventure that would find a perfect home even in an immersive video game soundtrack.
I Want More pushes past being a jazz album—it’s a powerful expression of McCaslin’s journey as a musician and his commitment to his art of expressing through sounds. It invites the listener to experience his music in a deeply personal and emotional way, creating a shared space of sonic exploration that breaks down the barriers between the preconceived audience of a genre. McCaslin’s incredible talent, love for music, and desire to share this love with his audience are the core of the album’s success.