The more time passes, the less often truly exceptional documents of the modern mainstream such as this one seem to come along. Guitarist Dave Stryker and alto and soprano sax man Steve Slagle have been working together for some time and there's abundant evidence of that here in their almost symbiotic understanding. Together they make for an exceptional front line and, when they've got the likes of drummer Billy Hart and bassist Jay Anderson supplying the foundation, the result can only be worthwhile music.
In view of how great this quartet is the appearance of Joe Lovano on tenor sax on a couple of tracks might seem superfluous, but it's clear he came to play on "Bird Flew. The quintet puts the music out as if its life depended on it, and the result is an object lesson in its field, especially when followed by "Hartland, a line from Stryker's pen that highlights how diverse a band as cohesive as this one can be whilst still keeping its edge. Slagle has clearly absorbed the knowledge that there's a lot more to playing the soprano sax than lots of fast runs full of emaciated notes played with minimal inflection. His tone on the straight horn is as rich in nuance as his work on alto sax, as can be heard on "Turning Point.
As seasoned listeners might expect, Billy Hart just goes on doing what he's always done all over this disc; he's long overdue the title of American national treasure. It's a joy for the ears to behold the way he and Anderson nail the sly groove of Slagle's title track, and the composer puts out abundant evidence of just how far he's got inside the alto sax's identity on this one.
It's guys like this who are showing there's still some longevity in an area of the music that, in an only too real sense, is now over fifty years old. They're putting out the true significance of identity, and more power to them for doing so.
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Personnel: Dave Stryker: guitar; Steve Slagle: alto and soprano saxes; Jay Anderson: bass; Billy Hart: drums. Joe Lovano: tenor sax (3, 5).