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Steve Slagle: Evensong (2013)

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Steve Slagle: Evensong How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Saxophonist Steve Slagle is a consummate leader often pegged as a sideman; with a résumé that includes stints with big band legends like Woody Herman
Woody Herman
Woody Herman
1913 - 1987
band/orchestra
and Lionel Hampton
Lionel Hampton
Lionel Hampton
1908 - 2002
vibraphone
, left-of-center trailblazers like pianist Carla Bley
Carla Bley
Carla Bley
b.1938
piano
, Latin giants like Ray Barretto
Ray Barretto
Ray Barretto
1929 - 2006
congas
and modern day marvels like tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
b.1952
saxophone
, it's easy to see why some people may look at him as a side dish, but outings under his own name mark him as main course material.

His outstanding '90s quartet dates—Reincarnation (Steeplechase, 1994) and Alto Blue (Steeplechase, 1997)—put him on the map as a notable leader on record, and he's been working the foursome format ever since, either under his own name or with guitarist Dave Stryker
Dave Stryker
Dave Stryker
b.1957
guitar
in the co-led Stryker Slagle Band
Stryker Slagle Band
Stryker Slagle Band

band/orchestra
; Evensong puts the saxophonist's name on top, but lives as a de facto Stryker/Slagle date, since both men contribute tunes and share the frontline. The presence of bassist Ed Howard
Ed Howard
Ed Howard

bass
, who appears on their Live At The Jazz Standard (Zoho, 2005), furthers this notion. The new guy at the party, drummer McClenty Hunter, fits in just fine with the other three previously connected parties, as he builds swing foundations, delivers firepower on "Shadowboxing" and sets up a slick groove behind Slagle's Eddie Harris
Eddie Harris
Eddie Harris
1934 - 1994
saxophone
-esque "Alive."

When viewed together, Slagle has often been tagged as the bop-to-beyond part of the team and Stryker the blues-and-soul side of the equation, but those labels don't do them justice; they certainly excel in those particular realms, but they both work far beyond those assigned borders. Slagle and Stryker share a near telepathic rapport and they've learned how best to complement one another in any setting over the years. Sometimes they simply sync up on a head and effortlessly fly through the song together, but that's not a given as, at other moments, Stryker comps along in supportive fashion while Slagle slyly sets things motion, or sits back and lets Stryker spread his wings.

Slagle dedicates a good number of these songs to friends and inspirations without aping those musicians' respective sounds and styles. The album opener name checks bassist Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
1922 - 1979
bass, acoustic
and gives a nod to the late Dennis Irwin
Dennis Irwin
Dennis Irwin
1951 - 2008
bass
, "Equal Nox" is connected to John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
, having been written on the saxophonist's birthday, the absorbing "Quiet Folks" gives due respect to guitarist Jim Hall
Jim Hall
Jim Hall
1930 - 2013
guitar
, and "The Star-Crossed Lovers" is an obvious, album-ending tribute to the song's composers—the great Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
1899 - 1974
piano
and Billy Strayhorn
Billy Strayhorn
Billy Strayhorn
1915 - 1967
piano
.

Slagle's horn(s) may continue to serve as musical enhancement on other people's projects, but he's an artist who deserves attention as an out-front entity and each one of his albums continue to prove that point.

Track Listing: Mingus In Us; Blues Four; Supermoon; Quiet Folks; Shadowboxing; Alive; Equal Nox; B Like Me; The Star-Crossed Lovers.

Personnel: Steve Slagle: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone; Dave Stryker: guitar; Ed Howard: bass; McClenty Hunter: drums.

Record Label: Panorama Records

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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