Change is a common theme in the music of Donny McCaslin. The saxophonist came up in traditional jazz, but he’s long since taken steps that have moved him away from that genre tag. His early recordings fell dead-center in post-bop territory, but as his fascination with electronica increased, so did his obsession with finding a way of adapting those new sounds to the language of jazz improvisation. McCaslin’s 2012 recording Casting For Gravity was a career-defining moment; on Gravity, McCaslin amped up his conventional electro-acoustic sound into something that was catchy like pop music, but was already thinking three steps ahead. It was so far from blues and swing that it felt like McCaslin was inventing a new genre whole cloth. He continued that trend on Fast Forward, settling fully into his new form of expressionism, and setting up his next step.
Then came Blackstar.
In a story that has now been well-documented, Bowie hired McCaslin and his quartet to collaborate with him on what would turn out to be his final album. Like McCaslin, Bowie also began as a genre traditionalist before transcending and then entirely reshaping it. Bowie’s and McCaslin’s separate creative arcs dovetailed to a place where the mutual influences of rock, pop, electronica and jazz improvisation gave them common ground.
We spoke with McCaslin about the Bowie experience, how their respective visions played out on the recording of Blackstar, and how that experience helped shape McCaslin’s new album, Beyond Now.