A jazz journey from two artists who’ve been there, done that.
The Stryker/Slagle Band Expanded – Routes [TrackList follows] – Strikezone 8813, 50:16 [2/5/16] ****:
(Dave Stryker – guitar, co-producer; Steve Slagle – alto saxophone, soprano saxophone (track 2), flute (tracks 2, 6), horn arranger, co-producer; John Clark – French horn; Billy Drewes – tenor saxophone, bass clarinet (tracks 2, 3); Clark Gayton – trombone, tuba (tracks 3, 6); Bill O’Connell – piano, Fender Rhodes (tracks 2, 5-6); Gerald Cannon – bass; McClenty Hunter – drums)
On the 50-minute Routes, frequent musical allies, friends and co-leaders Dave Stryker (guitar) and Steve Slagle (saxes, flute) explore journeys from place to place, past to present, and person to person. The two have collaborated for decades on each other’s projects, in other people’s groups, and as the mainstays of the Stryker/Slagle Band. This time around, Slagle and Stryker have lots to say about areas they’ve called home, musicians they’ve performed with or met along the way, and the passage from their past to their present. That spacious viewpoint also means an enlarged ensemble was needed, thus this nine-track outing utilizes the Stryker/Slagle Band Expanded. One tune features Slagle and Stryker’s traditional quartet setting, while others have keyboards and three additional horns: six cuts have an octet; one piece uses a sextet; another one has a quintet.
The fuller group has Stryker; Slagle (who switches between alto and soprano sax, and occasionally flute); John Clark on French horn; Billy Drewes on tenor sax and bass clarinet; Clark Gayton on trombone and tuba; the always phenomenal Bill O’Connell on piano and Fender Rhodes; plus a grooving rhythm section consisting of bassist Gerald Cannon and drummer McClenty Hunter. Slagle’s horn arrangements spice up the material and supply superb tonal shades.
Geography is certainly important to Slagle’s and Stryker’s compositions. Slagle was born in Los Angeles, thus it’s no surprise he opens the album with the soulful “City of Angels.” Slagle commences with a stirring, deep-toned alto sax solo, followed by Stryker’s riffing guitar solo, and finally O’Connell steps forward to offer some of his scintillating keyboard charm. One can only imagine how this optimistic piece would have gone over in one of the now-closed jazz clubs in the southern sections of the LA basin. Slagle furnishes another illustrative work related to Southern California on the expressive “Gardena,” named after the South Bay city where he once resided. The flavorful, multiple horns provide a tasty backdrop while there are notable solos from Slagle, O’Connell (who slips in some Latin American tinges) and some R’nB-seasoned picking from Stryker. There’s a calmer temperament which shifts through Stryker’s “Great Plains,” which hints at his Midwestern origins (he once lived in Omaha, Nebraska). Slagle’s expansive horn arrangement is evocative of Gil Evans and Thad Jones, two of Slagle’s avowed heroes. The various wind instruments impart a heartfelt ambiance. Slagle uses both sax and flute; Gayton’s tuba supports the bottom end; while O’Connell contributes a soft Fender Rhodes layering; and from start to finish the ensemble maintains a late-night, placid sensibility. Stryker and Slagle have both spent much time living and/or performing in the New York City region. Slagle wrote the funky and fun “Ft. Greene Scene” as an homage to the Brooklyn neighborhood where he once lived, and where he first professionally worked with Slagle. During “Ft. Greene Scene” Stryker and Slagle both stretch out with passionate solos; O’Connell really struts on his Fender Rhodes; and Hunter and Cannon lay down a bluesy, rhythmic swagger. Stryker and Slagle initially met when Stryker auditioned for organist Brother Jack McDuff’s band, at a time when Slagle was in McDuff’s group. That shared history permeates Stryker’s upbeat, shuffling “Lickety Split Lounge,” a 7:44 quartet number which honors the Harlem club where that McDuff audition evidently was held. Slagle and Stryker’s time together can be heard all through this lengthy tune, as they duet and solo like the old pros and friends they have been and continue to be.
Since he began working as a musician in the mid-‘70s, Slagle has played, toured and/or recorded with Charlie Haden, Lionel Hampton, Carla Bley, Joe Lovano and the Mingus Big Band. The Mingus connection comes to the fore on a reflective treatment of Charles Mingus’ “Self-Portrait in Three Colors,” which involves the bigger horn section and has some wonderful moments, including Slagle’s tender sax solo; Stryker’s equally sensitive guitar improvisation; and lightly graceful backing from Hunter (who emphasizes brushes and cymbals) and Cannon (who delivers an elegant bass solo which defines the idea of refinement). Routes is another winner from Stryker/Slagle. The inclusion of a larger ensemble enhances the music because the auditory palette presents plenty of subtle instances, underlying changes and musical developments which reveal themselves over repeat listening. If it has been a while since anyone has appreciated some Stryker/Slagle music, then take this one for a drive.
TrackList: City of Angels; Nothin’ Wrong with It; Self-Portrait in Three Colors; Routes; Ft. Greene Scene; Great Plains; Extensity; Gardena; Lickety Split Lounge.
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