During Monday’s lunchtime rehearsal, the musicians work on the well-known track “Stadium Jazz,” which appears on Donnie McCaslin’s 2012 album “Casting for Gravity,” which also featured Jason Lindner, Tim Lefebvre and Mark Juliana in his band. Guiliana). It is also performed in the Latvian Radio studio with the power of rock music and the subtle nuances of jazz music. Next on the agenda is a composition in reggae rhythms, the nuances of which are adjusted by Lindner, who is the arranger of the compositions. He is heard as an electronic music artist creating hypnotically rhythmic atmospheric music. Donnie McCaslin is also experimental in the last album “Blow” and in the newer singles.
Latvian Radio big band artistic director Kārlis Vanags has been following Doni Makaslin and Jason Lindner’s works since the beginning of the 2000s. When Vanags heard the concert of the two at the “Jazz Baltica” festival, he decided that the musicians should be invited as guests. Donny Makaslin expresses his joy at the opportunity to return to Riga, the first time he was here for only one day together with the band “Mingus Dynasty”, Jason Lindner is visiting Latvia for the first time, and this time both will spend a week in Latvia. The guests are accomplished musicians, so you can list their recordings, collaborations, Grammy awards, but in real life Donnie McCaslin and Jason Lindner are simple, friendly and precise in their statements, broad in their thinking.
The legend of Bowie’s jazz band
The creative output of the musicians is diverse, and since 2016 they are also known as David Bowie’s “Blackstar” jazz group. Judging by the comments on the Internet, this trick seems to have worked well, getting a wider audience interested in their own music as well. Jason Lindner asks me a counter question: If it wasn’t said that jazz musicians were playing with Bowie, would anyone care? I replied that I would comply because I follow such specific information. Lindner continues:
“This album doesn’t sound like jazz to me, except for the sax solo, but David Bowie has worked with a lot of saxophonists in his career. It’s very likely that none of those earlier saxophonists were like Donnie McCaslin.
As a band, we don’t play jazz or improvise on the “Blackstar” album. Why we’re called David Bowie’s jazz band or jazz album is beyond me. We all play with non-jazz musicians as well. In fact, I hardly ever played jazz in those days.
I think you have to be careful when you call something jazz.
I’m a bit annoyed by this legend that David Bowie hired local jazz musicians. Someone wrote it and everyone is rewriting it. It is so simplistic and untrue. When Bowie came to our concert, one of the reasons he liked us was because we played loud. He liked our rock, punk and experimental energy. The different sounds and our crazy approach to music. Bowie had not come to listen to a jazz band. So I’m a bit annoyed with the choice of language and I think it’s important to explain that to the writers. For example, Lady Gaga has also released an album of jazz standards. This is a jazz album, Blackstar is not. This difference needs to be emphasized.”
“What you said makes me think about the kind of music we played before working with David. It could be called exploring the intersections of improvisation using drum’n’bass language, and that’s an oversimplification on my part,” continues Donny McCaslin. “When we thought about Blackstar, we knew the language of music to interpret the frameworks of the songs that he gave us. And we had the concession to stay within those frameworks, giving and taking from our common collaboration. We all have a wide range of experiences and sources of inspiration. We approach music in a progressive way, we don’t play with a one-way approach. And even before David, our work included ambient music, improvisation, drum’n’bass – all of it together. Both our common and individual experience is extensive, even though we have the basics of the jazz school.”
About the changes
Continuing the conversation about artistic development: do musicians remember the moment when they crossed the basics of the jazz school? “Pushing the boundaries of music is gradual. In my case, it involved adding electronic instruments – synths and bass to the band, while keeping the saxophone and drums as acoustic instruments. Both Jason and bassist Tim Lefebvre approach the instruments like DJs with many different sounds at their disposal, and changes the direction of the music. Over time I also wanted to add electronic effects to the saxophone to manipulate the sound. This progression comes instinctively when a point of understanding is reached that something needs to change. Then I start to follow a new path until I feel the unfulfilled again a feeling that encourages you to look for the next path,” reveals McAlsins.
“We also like change,” continues Kāris Vanags. “At the festival “Saxophonia” we will have two big projects: this one, together with you, and in a week we will play Brazilian music and original works arranged by saxophonist Ademir Junior. Any experience allows us to grow and adapt new ideas. And today, too, we were looking for a new way , how to perform pieces. The usual big band approach will not work, you have to find the mood of the particular piece and grooveand we also approach improvisation guided by sounds, not harmony.”
“Latvijas Radio big band is a high-level group, which allows us to think more about details, and gaining mutual trust is also much easier.
Therefore, there is no need to invent anything, we are here and now, and we can try different approaches,” Makalsins shares his impressions.
Latvijas Radio big band together with Donija Makaslin and Jason Lindner will perform in Riga on February 9 at the Great Guild, and on February 10 they will perform in Ventspils, in the “Latvija” concert hall. The concerts of the “Saxophonia” festival will take place between February 9 and 18.
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