By Tyler Smith
Two years after working with David Bowie on his final album, Blackstar, saxophonist Donny McCaslin has returned with his new ambitious project, Blow.
Originally from Santa Cruz California, McCaslin attended the Berklee College of Music and began his career in New York in the late 90’s. His heavy collaboration with Bowie later on in his career helped pave the way for the saxophonist to start experimenting with different styles and work with many artists, culminating in Blow in late 2018.
“The idea was to just really go for exploring these collaborations and documenting everything,” McCaslin explains on his website. He later recalls a common saying of Bowie’s that is a prominent message within Blow. “Go for what you’re hearing, don’t worry about what it’s going to be called or categorized as. . . Let’s have some fun. Let’s make some music.”
The album’s expansive range of material is apparent right off the bat with “What About the Body,” an energetic start that blends alt-rock, indie, and jazz aspects alongside politically suggestive lyrics by Ryan Dahle. This track, paired with a few other bumping, anthem rock-y collaborations like “New Kindness” and “Great Destroyer,” is peppered with a few tunes reminiscent of McCaslin’s pre-Bowie career. Primarily instrumental tracks like the intensely polyrhythmic “Beast” and “Exactlyfourminutesofimprovisedmusic,” a title that speaks for itself, bring in stark splashes of free jazz and electronic freak-outs only to return afterwards to the realm of structure.
Later on, McCaslin features folk-rock group Sun Kil Moon in “The Opener.” On top of the moody aura created by the band, an eerily descriptive monologue is delivered by bandleader Mark Kozelek, which for the next six minutes changes the entire tone of the album. “The Opener” ends so abruptly you don’t realize the album has moved on, until the tides completely turn with the 73-second, heavy prog-punk stinger “Tempest,” featuring fiery back and forth between vocalist Jeff Taylor and McCaslin.
“Eye of the Beholder” is the quiet culmination of this hour-long musical experiment. With very somber lyrics presented beautifully by vocalist Gail Ann Dorsey, the melancholy lullaby is the perfect way to end such an intense collection.
Ultimately, Blow. is a “thank you” to David Bowie for his contributions to the world. This study in fearlessness, unorthodox combinations, and going beyond the now, shows strong potential for what the Blackstar crew will undertake next.