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Saxophonist Donny McCaslin and his band, featured on David Bowie‘s Blackstar, will make their Motéma Music debut with the October 14 release of Beyond Now, a highly anticipated album dedicated to Bowie. Recorded nearly three months after Bowie’s passing, the project is deeply influenced by their extraordinary experience collaborating with one of the greatest artists of all-time on his final album. “It was like a dream except it was something I never could have dreamed of,” reflects McCaslin on working hand-in-hand with Bowie on Blackstar. “David Bowie was a visionary artist whose generosity, creative spirit, and fearlessness will stay with me the rest of my days. Beyond Now is dedicated to him and to all who loved him.”
With three GRAMMY® nominations and 11 albums to his name, McCaslin’s path to Bowie and Beyond Now can be traced back to 2011 with the release of his album Perpetual Motion, taking on an electric direction for the first time in contrast to his previous acoustic projects. Two subsequent albums Casting for Gravity (2012) and Fast Future (2015) released with his working band were directly influenced by electronica artists (covering groups such as Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, and Baths), which netted McCaslin a 2013 GRAMMY® nomination for “Best Improvised Jazz Solo.”
The once in a lifetime opportunity to work with David Bowie came after composer Maria Schneider, a longtime collaborator, recommended McCaslin and his group to Bowie. Schneider and Bowie were collaborating on the track “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime),” which featured McCaslin as a soloist. In June 2014, Bowie heeded Schneider’s advice and made a visit to hear McCaslin and company at the 55 Bar in Greenwich Village. Soon after, Bowie began corresponding with McCaslin over email and sending music, forming a new collaboration and friendship that transpired through the recording of Blackstar until Bowie’s passing. The result is Beyond Now, which documents “David Bowie’s Last Band” as they were processing both their grief and Bowie’s distinctive impact.
“This new album is an expression of that journey for all of us,” says McCaslin. “David allowed Blackstar to be what it was going to be regardless of how people might have categorized it. More than anything, it was his fearlessness in crossing musical boundaries and genres in his music and life that inspired the risks I’m taking in Beyond Now. I am indebted to Bowie for showing me the risks and rewards of going for your uncompromising musical vision.”
Tradition shapes your work. For saxophonist and bandleader Shabaka Hutchings, that’s something he’s long understood. After years spent in the orbit of London’s jazz circuit, he examines and reimagines his influences with a dexterity that’s unique.
"When we study the music, the lives, the words of our master musicians we obtain a glimpse of that artist's essential energy source. This is the core vitality of the individual which leads them to utilise the musical specifics of their chosen genre in a way that mirrors their inner source of power. This is an intuited wisdom that's handed to us from the legacies of our elders.
Going beyond the jazz greats Hutchings cites, influences are drawn from plenty of other sources: Caribbean calypso, central African song structures and Southern African Nguni music all play a part. Bringing together those ideas with the contributions of his bandmates is, he explains, crucial to what he sees in the role of an artist.
A regular sight on stages around London and beyond, playing – and often leading – groups like The Comet Is Coming, Sons of Kemet and Melt Yourself Down, he’s part of a generation whose idea of jazz is pointedly unrefined. That’s to say, Wisdom of the Elders comes from an artist interested in the indefinable gaps more than fitting into boxes.