Regatta Bar

Donny McCaslin Quartet Delights a Packed Show at The Regattabar Jazz Club

When asked, “How was that show?” a person is left with a variety of words to use to respond.  Most of the time, we hear the same words again and again no matter what show is in discussion: great, awesome, best one yet, phenomenal, astounding, etc.  While those words all describe Donny McCaslin’s show accurately, there’s one word that describes it perfectly.  “Virtuosic.”  Last night, the audience witnessed not only music that was great, wholesome, gratifying, and cutting edge but also experienced musicians of impeccable skill level that were displaying technical mastery that few others on their instrument share.  The many that were there for the show experienced an amazing show.  Nothing in the world could have prepared me for what I was going to hear.

I had briefly looked up Donny before attending the show because he was a new name to me.  In about 30 seconds on Google, I saw tons of Berklee hits popping up, realizing that Donny had attended there as well as working with a variety of Berklee faculty on projects.  I listened to a variety of his recordings and heard mainly straight-ahead jazz, and enjoyed the high level musicianship contained on his previous albums.  I guess I missed seeing his newest, Casting for Gravity, the album that the show was loosely based upon, for I had no idea I was in for a delightful evening of cutting edge jazz fusion.

Backed by a band of all bands, Donny’s quartet included Jason Linder on keys, Tim Lefebvre on bass, and Mark Guiliana on drums.  I was excited to see this show after having previously encountered Guiliana with Brad Mehldau during their tour which passed through Cambridge.  Guiliana was crazy great at that show, but he was amazing last night!  Extremely intricate drum fills that I have seen few drummers attempt or execute.  Enjoying my seat right next to the pianist, it was a joy to watch Linder execute some of the wildest most amazing piano phrases I’ve ever seen.  Equipped with an acoustic piano and two synths running through additional pedals, his palate of sounds to choose from was nearly endless.  The impeccable bassist of the night was also having fun with some sounds past a regular electric bass.  With a ring modulator and octaver among other pedals, Lefebvre would put in a crazy touch at just the right time.  It was with these sounds that I realized…wait! I’ve heard this guy before…then I realized, he was with the amazing Wayne Krantz when he stopped through at Regattabar last year.  What a show that was, and what a show this was.  In ways, they shared similarities, such as the sonic explorations that occurred through the heavy use of crazy cool effect pedals.  Of course, Donny was shining the entire night too.  An extremely good sax player, I was more so impressed by his compositions.  Each piece evolved so much, contained so much intricacy, and were so cohesive.  He was doing some really crafty moves as a composer.  It was a great time getting to experience his work.  The show ended with a friendly visit to all of the band and a copy of their GRAMMY-nominated album in my hands.  If they came back once a week for a year, I’d be at every one of the shows – they’re that good.

~Matt Scutchfield (contemporary composer and instrumentalist at Berklee College of Music)