Steve Slagle – Dedication – Panorama 

by | Mar 27, 2018 | Jazz CD Reviews

Family, friends, and fellow musicians all make an impact on saxophonist Steve Slagle’s latest album.

Steve Slagle – Dedication [TrackList and Performing Artists follows] – Panorama 007, 58:18 [1/4/18] ****:

Saxophonist Steve Slagle’s one-hour album, Dedication, is well named. The nine tracks (seven Slagle originals) are each dedicated to someone important in Slagle’s life and/or career. Listening to this material one can hear Slagle’s influences, from Sonny Rollins to Wayne Shorter, Steve Swallow to Jackie McLean. Slagle may not be recognized by all jazz fans (some may know him as the former director of the Mingus Big Band), but he’s been an integral part of the jazz community for decades and each of his outings showcases his instrumental prowess, his composing skills and his ability to arrange and collaborate with various other jazz artists. Slagle put together a stellar group for this record, including bassist Scott Colley (who has worked with Chris Potter, Gary Burton and currently with Julian Lage); drummer Bill Stewart (credits include Scott Colley, Larry Goldings and also Potter); pianist Lawrence Fields (his résumé includes Joe Lovano, Dave Douglas and also Potter); percussionist Roman Diaz (who has a lot of Latin Jazz credits); and guest guitarist Dave Stryker (who co-leads The Stryker/Slagle Band) is on all but two selections.

Mostly, Dedication is upbeat, post-bop and bop-leaning. The energy level is high, sustained and contagious. Slagle’s Latin-tinged “Sun Song” is a bright opener and is a tribute to Rollins. Slagle states in the CD liner notes, “I am glad I came up in a time when Sonny through his playing and strength of personality could be a constant mentor.” During “Sun Song” Slagle maintains an alto sax flexibility with a bit of a challenging tone and timbre. On the tune’s second half, Fields provides a memorable solo, while Diaz and Stewart supply a burbling and bouncy Afro-Cuban rhythm. Next up is “Niner,” which was penned to give credit to bassist Swallow. Slagle admits, “This may be my favorite track on the recording,” and clarifies it was Swallow who gave Slagle the nickname “Niner” back when Slagle was in Carla Bley’s band. “Niner” is unquestionably a swinging, muscular cut which keeps the momentum going from start to finish. “Niner” also introduces Stryker’s blues-infused, fluid guitar. If you listen closely you can hear somebody say, “Whew!” during Stryker’s vigorous solo.

Things slow on the fourth number, “Triste Beleza” (or ‘Beautiful Sadness’ in English), which is Slagle’s homage to the music from Brazil. Here, Slagle and his group gracefully shift through a sinuous bossa nova which is highlighted by Slagle’s elegant alto sax, Fields suave piano and the rhythm team’s wafting cadence. Slagle offers some nice acoustic, nylon-string guitar as a rhythmic support and furnishes an assured electric guitar improvisation. Another unhurried cut is Stryker’s beautiful ballad, “Corazon,” which honors Weather Report founder Joe Zawinul, who heard “Corazon” when it was first written and praised it. Stryker again switches to nylon-string acoustic guitar, while Slagle delivers a poetic alto sax solo which has a lighter, soprano-like sound. Slagle changes to soprano sax only once, on the soft-to-quick-paced gem, “Sofi,” which was written for his young daughter, Sophia. Her lyrical and playful personality suffuses the arrangement’s spirited joie de vivre. Astute listeners may also notice during Slagle’s soprano sax solo that he quotes from a Zawinul composition made famous by Cannonball Adderley. You can probably guess the tune.

While all the pieces focus on Slagle’s sax, the upfront and robust “Opener” has both Slagle’s alto sax and his flute. Slagle explains “Opener” is the first composition he wrote on flute, although most of the rapidly-bounding arrangement is carried by his fast-flowing alto sax. Slagle discloses, “I dedicate this to a man whom I had a ‘connection’ with both musically and personally, altoist & composer Jackie McLean.” Slagle concludes with the only cut not penned for this CD, Shorter’s “Charcoal Blues,” from Shorter’s 1964 LP, Night Dreamer. Slagle avows that “Charcoal Blues” is a unique blues which stands up to so many other great blues tunes. Slagle says he first heard Shorter when Slagle was ten years old, and “I was struck by his sound…still am.” The sextet configuration gives this blues scorcher an individual characteristic. Stryker is particularly noteworthy during his blues-drenched guitar solo which takes full advantage of his Gibson guitar’s sound and vibrancy. If Dedication fell off your jazz radar when it came out in early 2018, look for it. It’s well worth some investigation.

Sun Song
Major in Come
Triste Beleza (Beautiful Sadness)
Watching Over
Charcoal Blues

Performing Artists:
Steve Slagle – alto saxophone, flute (track 5), soprano saxophone (track 8), producer
Lawrence Fields – piano
Scott Colley – bass
Bill Stewart – drums
Roman Diaz – conga, percussion (tracks 1, 4-7)
Dave Stryker –– electric guitar (tracks 2, 4, 6-9), nylon-string acoustic guitar (tracks 4, 7)

—Doug Simpson

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