Label/Year: Panorama Records, 2017
Lineup – Steve Slagle: alto sax, flute; Lawrence Fields: piano; Scott Colley: drums; Bill Stewart: drums + guest Dave Stryker: guitar.
Experienced American altoist/flautist Steve Slagle, the former director of the Mingus Big Band, has a curriculum filled with fruitful collaborations in a wide variety of genres with respected names such as Joe Lovano, The Beastie Boys, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, Carla Bley, Steve Kuhn, and Milton Nascimento.
The successor of last year's Alto Manhattan is called Dedication. Released on Panorama Records, the album, an organic brew of post-bop statements frequently boosted by Latin infusions, comprises nine tracks dedicated to people or things that were relevant in Slagle’s musical career. In regard to the last album, the saxophonist maintains the pianist Lawrence Fields, drummer Bill Stewart, and percussionist Roman Diaz in the lineup, replacing the bassist Gerald Cannon for the ultra-competent Scott Colley and inviting his longtime collaborator, guitarist Dave Stryker, to participate in six songs.
The elated “Sun Song”, dedicated to saxophonist Sonny Rollins, spreads an uplifting lightness, conveying a fire-hose charm that feels very celebratory within its Latin nature. Slagle’s fluid, off-kilter language comes out with a brittle and tempered timbre, and on the tail of Fields’ unnerving solo, the band trades eights with the percussion team.
It’s definitely a strong start that doesn't lose steam when we go to “Niner”, a piece that honors the electric bassist Steve Swallow, and “Major In Come”, an ode to the art of swinging built on major chords in five different keys. The former composition, showing off the theme’s statement under a sax-guitar unison, is rhythmically dominated by an animated bass groove and funky pulse, while the latter provides us with a hard-swinging gush that would make Joe Lovano satisfied and features Stewart’s readable drum solo.
The band attests an easily bent temperament when digging “Triste Beleza”, an illustrative bossa nova appointment propelled by Stryker’s luxurious acoustic guitar voicings, Stewart’s gentle brushwork, and Diaz’s fortifying conga sounds.
The hefty swinger “Opener”, evoking the energy of saxophonist Jackie McLean, is adorned with hot rhythms and the bandleader’s double-faced output, first on alto sax and then wrapping up on flute.
Slagle incorporated two external compositions on the album: Stryker’s “Corazon”, a meek tribute to Weather Report’s keyboardist Joe Zawinul, and Wayne Shorter’s “Charcoal Blues”, harmonically defined by the guitarist’s amiable chords and spoken with the incumbent blues stratum in mind.
Dedication was aligned to furnish a sturdy opening, but the album wanes in vibrancy after the fourth track. Even feeling limited in extraordinary stretches, it fulfills its objectives with an unperturbed orderliness and should earn the attention of both classic post-bop and Latin jazz supporters.
01 – Sun Song ► 02 – Niner ► 04 – Triste Beleza