"Keeper," the latest recording by the Stryker/Slagle Band, is a collection of straight-ahead jazz compositions that further exemplifies the incredible tightness that this ensemble has achieved. The band features Dave Stryker on guitar, Steve Slagle on saxophones, Victor Lewis on drums and Jay Anderson on bass. The four have been playing together for over twenty years. The four play as one, but with the diverse identity rarely found in a band with that much time together. The compositions of Stryker and Slagle are interchangeable in that they have such balance in their emphasis on rhythm and melody. The one cover tune on the CD is "Ruby My Dear," a Thelonious Monk composition that is treated with such tenderness by both Stryker and Slagle. This song shows the maturity of these players. They take the empty space of the ballad and insert subtle phrases that put their signature on the composition and yet, at all times honor the original themes.
The opening and title track, "Keeper," is a pulsing bop number that shows the excellent interplay of sax and guitar in this ensemble. The rhythm section opens tight and remains tight throughout this recording. It is futile to try to say this CD and its compositions sound like someone you might have heard. They may, but the band has a sound of their own. I know in this day and age that is a rarity, but it is true of this band. That is one of the reasons I am drawn to this CD, its originality. One of my favorite cuts is "Blue State." This bluesy number lays down a dialogue between Stryker and Slagle and then gives them each room to express their perspective on a simple theme. Stryker’s soloing is lush and full of rich phrasings. Slagle adds dynamics to the piece and the two of them come together as one on the tight groove of the rhythm section.
"Keeper" is my first exposure to The Stryker/Slagle Band, and I immediately went on line and checked out some of their other work. This band is skilled in the individual musicianship they bring, but they excel as a band, as an ensemble of personalities and identities. That mix is what makes this band stick. Check out this CD and you will see that their twenty years together makes them like fine wine, only getting better with age!