The Stryker/Slagle Band – Keeper – Panorama PAN003, 57:28 ****:
(Dave Stryker – guitar, producer; Steve Slagle – alto saxophone, soprano saxophone (tracks 8, 9), producer; Jay Anderson – bass, co-producer; Victor Lewis – drums)
Guitarist Dave Stryker and saxophonist Steve Slagle have extensive credentials as solo artists, session players and veterans of other musicians’ ensembles. But something special occurs when the two friends get together as The Stryker/Slagle Band, the co-led quartet that also includes bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Victor Lewis, who were featured on two previous Stryker/Slagle releases.
The group’s fifth effort, Keeper, has an apt moniker. Blues, ballads, straightforward jazz, soulful shades and Latin spices combine into an hour’s worth of compositional and improvisational music that is amiable, adept and astute.
Stryker and Slagle each bring tunes to the table: out of ten tracks, Stryker penned five and Slagle wrote four while a Monk cover rounds out the session. Stryker’s title track opens the album, which commences with a soulful guitar vamp, then Slagle steps in with his appealing alto saxophone and stretches out on a sociable melody underpinned by Lewis’ lucid drum work and Anderson’s limber bass. Stryker demonstrates a soulful trait similar to a young George Benson, which may explain why Stryker spent the mid 1980s with Jack McDuff, who employed Benson in the 1960s. Stryker has been generous in citing Albert, Freddie and B.B. King as inspirations during his developmental years and he indicates his high regard for the three blues masters on the appropriately named “Blue State,” a strolling blues treatment accented by Slagle’s stout sax.
Slagle showcases his blues inclination and a few of his New York jazz influences during his contemporaneous, upbeat “Bailout,” a fine vehicle for Slagle’s sax blasts and Stryker’s six-string ignition. Slagle reveals the thoughtful side of his personality on “Bryce’s Peace,” a touching tribute to his recently departed father, a painter with art that graces the album cover. Slagle’s emotive alto sax is the obvious highlight but Anderson’s lyrical solo bass performance also emphasizes the piece’s pensive position. Slagle progresses from farewell to hello with “Sister,” an unreservedly traditional workout that celebrates the birth of Slagle’s third daughter. The record’s longest cut affords room and space for everyone to deliver solo contributions, with Stryker and Slagle appending vigorous offerings and Anderson slipping in a meditative bass counterpoint.
The foursome’s interpretation of Thelonious Monk’s enduring ballad “Ruby My Dear” has a poignant quality articulated via Slagle’s melodic sax and underscored by Stryker’s harmonic voicings and refined chords. The arrangement is tidy and fluid and proves the group is quite capable at translating classic jazz material.
The Stryker/Slagle Band ends with the lively lure of the Afro-Cuban flavored “Good 4 U,” another appetizing Slagle number. The rhythmically intricate creation allows Lewis to exhibit his flexible percussive capacity while everyone adds to the action. This is music recommended for anyone who enjoys assured post-bop sax/guitar jazz.
The production has a warm, club-like affection that heightens the quartet’s cohesion and sympathetic nature. Lewis’ cymbals are crisp but never metallic, for example, while Anderson’s subtle stand-up bass is balanced well against Slagle’s middle register sax. And when Stryker switches to nylon string guitar, none of his soft intonations are lost underneath Lewis’ deeper bass drum.
3. Ruby My Dear
4. Came to Believe
5. Bryce’s Peace
6. Blue State
8. Gold Dust
10. Good 4 U
— Doug Simpson