Donny McCaslin (born 1966) received his early jazz education from two key sources: his father (a local jazz pianist and vibraphonist in Donny's hometown of Santa Cruz, California) and the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston. These two influences obviously worked well in shaping McCaslin's talent, as his jazz career since graduating from Berklee will attest. He played for four years with Gary Burton traveling the world, and when he moved to New York City in 1991, bassist Eddie Gomez picked him up quickly. Since then he's gigged steadily in New York with a host of jazz all-stars, made the 55 Bar club his home base, worked steadily with the Dave Douglas quintent, and put out numerous fine jazz records, including Declaration.
This record will appeal to neo-bop fans who enjoy the extra depth and richness that comes with larger ensembles – not quite a big band but in the neighborhood. For example, the opening tune “M” includes two trumpets, french horn, trombone, and bass trombone along with guitar and percussion on top of a regular trio. Most of the tracks use some combination of these extra voices, but McCaslin doesn't overlook the more traditional small combo setting without brass; two tunes, “Uppercut” and “Jeanina” feature McCaslin with only his rhythm section quintet (trio + guitar and percussion).
The music on Declaration is comfortable, easy-on-the-ears original bop. McCaslin wrote and arranged all of the tunes. There is a nice variety: hard bop (“M”, “Uppercut”), the anthem-like title cut “Declaration” as well “Late Night Gospel”, a ballad (“Jeanina”), and a jazz-rock cut called “Rock Me”. McCaslin's playing is lyrical, emphasizing melodic lines over showy technique and upper-register squawking and squeaking that so many tenor players seem camp on, although McCaslin is fully capable of both. His band provides strong support and excellent solo work by Ben Monder on guitar and Edward Simon on piano.