GRAMMY-nominated violinist/composer Sara Caswell releases her first album as a leader in over 17 years Out March 3, 2023 via Anzic Records, The Way To You features Jesse Lewis, Ike Sturm, Jared Schonig and special guest Chris Dingman on a heartfelt, gorgeous set of originals and inspired arrangements
“Sara Caswell is an anointed musician. From the first splash of tone pouring out of her violin, we are invited into a visceral sensation of deep-spirited passion, harnessed and polished through artistic devotion. As always, Sara’s playing soothes my spirit, and inspires my mind. I am very grateful for her most recent offering, and excited on behalf of the many listeners who will receive the sonic blessings contained therein.”
– esperanza spalding
In the eighteen years since she arrived in New York City, Sara Caswell has become the first call violinist for creative bandleaders in the jazz world and beyond. Her credentials include tours and recordings with luminaries including esperanza spalding, Linda May Han Oh, David Krakauer, Henry Threadgill, Fred Hersch, Regina Carter, Bruce Springsteen, Brad Mehldau, John Patitucci, Donny McCaslin, Brian Blade, Dave Stryker, Helen Sung, Christian Sands, the WDR Big Band and others. She is a member of Joseph Brent’s 9 Horses trio and Chuck Owen’s The Jazz Surge.
While her talents have not gone unrecognized – Caswell has ranked high on the DownBeat Critics and Readers Polls every year since 2013 – that demanding schedule has left Caswell with limited time to focus on her own projects. Aside from 2013’s acclaimed Alive in the Singing Air by the Caswell Sisters, the group that Sara coleads with her vocalist sister Rachel, Caswell has not released an album under her own name in over 17 years. Her two well-received solo albums, First Song (2000) and But Beautiful (2005), were both recorded prior to her move to New York in the fall of 2004.
That long delay finally comes to an end with the release of The Way To You, the much-anticipated album by the Sara Caswell Quartet. Due out March 3, 2023 via Anzic Records, The Way To You features the stellar band that Caswell has led for the past decade, with guitarist Jesse Lewis, bassist Ike Sturm and drummer
Jared Schonig, joined on several tracks by vibraphonist Chris Dingman. The quartet’s longevity is in ample evidence throughout this gorgeous collection, shining through in its sensitive interplay and nuanced expressiveness.
The band’s closeness was a crucial factor in finally taking the project into the studio, which Caswell only undertook at her sidemen’s insistent urging. “I was hesitant given it had been so long since I’d gone into the studio to record my own project,” Caswell admits. “But Ike, Jesse, and Jared each came to me at various points and said, ‘Sara, we need to record these songs.’ It was the guys who instigated it. But we’d had the gift of time to try things out and find the repertoire that really resonated with us. What you hear on the album is the material we felt blended our voices together and allowed the creative freedom we seek in each other.”
The album’s title is a slight variation on Michel Legrand’s “On My Way To You,” originally recorded by singer Maureen McGovern (and later by the likes of Barbra Streisand and Johnny Mathis), which the quartet performs as an achingly tender, yearning ballad. The phrase captures the intimacy and deep connection that Caswell strives for in her music, a plainspoken but heartfelt communication that the violin, in its resemblance to the human voice, can so vividly render.
“I’m drawn to melody,” Caswell states simply. “I look for songs that have a beautiful lyrical line and harmonies that take you to surprising but organic places. As a group we can find beauty in the intricacies of a song, but also the freedom and simplicity of a moment. We’re able to dance with the repertoire we choose and freely communicate with each other.”
The Way To You opens with the soaring “South Shore,” written for the band by Australian trumpeter/composer Nadje Noordhuis and inspired by the bike rides that Sara enjoyed with her father, musicologist Austin Caswell, around the wooded lakes of southern Indiana. Sturm contributed “Stillness,” mesmerizing here in its transcendent fragility.
Caswell herself penned three pieces on the album. The gentle waltz “Warren’s Way” is a dedication to the composer’s partner, drummer Michael W. Davis, who shares a songwriting credit with Caswell and guitarist Dave Stryker on the gritty, Bill Frisell-inspired “Last Call.” “Spinning” draws the listener into its spiraling vortex, Dingman’s reverberant vibes helping to cast a hypnotic spell as Caswell launches into a rapturous solo. Brazilian composer Egberto Gismonti’s “7 Anéis” steers the album into a celebratory mood, with the gleeful abandon of a spirited folk dance. Caswell shows off her bebop chops on Kenny Barron’s classic “Voyage,” which boasts the simmering swing of a vintage Blue Note session. The album concludes with a stunning rendition of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “O Que Tinha de Ser,” which Caswell performs on the Hardanger d’Amore, a hybrid violin/viola that produces a rich, resonant sound from five sympathetic strings beneath the fingerboard. Though she’s played the instrument for the better part of a decade, Caswell has only recently begun incorporating it into more jazz-focused contexts.
Says Caswell, “The Hardanger d’Amore has a rich, resonant, and haunting tone that brings out a different aspect of my musical voice – it has taken time for me to experiment and discover how I might blend it into my creative palette.”
The Way To You can also be taken as representative of Caswell’s love of bringing her music to live audiences – the obstacles to which during the pandemic years added an additional delay to the album’s release. “I love playing with these guys and the idea of not touring this music with them just seemed wrong,” she says. “So I want to make the most of this moment and celebrate the fact that we can actually go out and travel and perform for live audiences again. I don’t take that for granted.”
About Sara Caswell:
Grammy nominee Sara Caswell “is a brilliant world-class violinist… one of the very best of the present generation of emerging young jazz stars” according to the late David Baker, internationally-renowned jazz educator and director of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. Rooted in an early exposure to a variety of musical genres, Sara’s technical facility intertwined with her gift for lyricism continue to attract growing attention to her artistry as a jazz soloist, sideman, and teacher.
Voted into the DownBeat Critics and Readers Polls every year since 2013, Sara has been part of groups led by esperanza spalding (Chamber Music Society), Linda Oh (Aventurine), and David Krakauer (The Big Picture), and has performed and/or recorded with artists and ensembles including the WDR Big Band, Brad Mehldau, Brian Blade, John Patitucci, Donny McCaslin, Henry Threadgill, Dave Stryker, Helen Sung, Miho Hazama, Christian Sands, Regina Carter, Kishi Bashi, and Bruce Springsteen. She is currently on faculty at Berklee College of Music, Manhattan School of Music, The New School, and New York University.