I first heard Steve Slagle about 15 years ago while he was with the Mingus Big Band when it was playing once a week at the Fez in Manhattan. (After a few years at the Iridium, they're now at the Jazz Standard weekly. Don't miss them when you're in New York.) I immediately wondered why I hadn't heard him before because that night he was the strongest soloist in an all-star band. Well, I've heard a lot more of him lately since he's begun recording frequently as a leader and with Joe Lovano's nonet. Lovano guests on four tracks here. His relationship with Slagle dates back to the 70s when they were both attending Boston's Berklee School of Music.
Slagle has had a similarly long-term association with his co-leader Dave Stryker. This is perhaps the best recording of their band because of the addition of Lovano and the session's eight uniformly strong originals, five by Stryker and three by Slagle. The only cover is of Roland Kirk's "Fingers in the Wind," which is also the only track to feature Slagle's fine flute work. With a fat, breathy tone he gives more than a nod to the composer's own aggressive flute style.
And as long as we're giving credit to others, it's Ornette who is honored on Slagle's quirky "Two Sense." Again, even his solo reminds us of the master.
After Lovano and the equally capable leaders there's little solo time left for Jay Anderson and Victor Lewis, but they add essential grounding. Anderson has a nice, ripe sound and Lewis looks to complement and encourage rather than dominate. The unison playing on the album is stunning, whether it's Stryker/Slagle or Lovano/Slagle. The guitar-alto combination is the more unusual one and is responsible for the quartet's immediately recognizable sound. Tap your foot to the rapid beat of Stryker's intricate "Strikology," and you'll appreciate the skilled musicianship that much more. The tune is on the changes of Coltrane's "Lazy Bird."
But rather than technique, it's the emotional strength of the playing that makes this one a winner. Recommended.