There are times when, coming across a disc from an unfamiliar artist that results in a welcome surprise after only one listen, the question is begged: Where has this musician been hiding? Such is the case with New York born and bred saxophonist/educator Larry Slezak, who delivers his very first album as leader with No Worries,
, and what an album it is. With a dynamic selection of standardsfrom Neal Hefti's oft-recorded "Girl Talk," Carl Fischer's love ballad, "You've Changed," to a riveting treatment of Jose Feliciano's "Chico and the Man," the theme song from the old television series with Jack Albertson and Freddie Prinzethe vibrant music here, clearly sustains a good measure of swing, superbly bolstered by dicey hard-driving charts and a striking performance from the leader and extended cast.
A longtime resident of Houston, Texas, Slezak, is the premiere jazz saxophonist in the Houston jazz community who also performs with the Houston Symphony and the Houston Grand Opera Orchestra, as well as serving as the Director of Jazz Ensembles at Rice University. For this first effort, Slezak records with a core quintet comprised of guitarist Clayton Dyess, bassist Thomas Helton, Jose-Miguel Yamal on Hammond B-3 organ and piano, and son Joe Slezak on drums.
The saxophonist makes an immediate impression on the brisk opener, "Floatin,'" laying down some nice tenor chops that set the stage for the rest of the album. A sampling of the next piece clearly drives that point through as Slezak makes his biting tenor scream with pleasure on the standard "How About You." The bluesy title track features guitarist Dyess providing direction as the leader shares solo space with Dennis Dotson on trumpet. Slezak blows a mean soprano on Hefti's signature tune "Girl Talk," warmly backed up by Yamal's organ and the guitarist's soft riffs.
The quintet is augmented by percussionist Fernando Ledesma on "Chico and the Man," and on the organist's only composition, "Distant Harmony," and further features vocalist Sheri Lavo on "Wee Small Hours" and the Arthur Hamilton classic, "Cry Me A River." The music turns tender and delicious with the additional support of a sixteen-piece string orchestra on four pieces, arranged by Bernie Hatch and conducted by Dr. Robert Linder.
The two orchestral pieces the standout above the rest are "You've Changed" and the Albert Hague finale, "Young and Foolish," polishing off one sparkling session of beautiful music. There are many words to describe saxophonist Larry Slezak's debut, and two that apply are: delightful and memorable. Now that Slezak has decided to emerge from playing in a local arena to sharing his music on a national stage, making his next musical project better than this impressive beginning will truly be a challenge.
Personnel: Larry Slezak: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Clayton Dyess: guitar; Thomas Helton: bass; Jose-Miguel Yamal: piano, Hammond B3 organ; Sheri Lavo: vocals(8,10); Dennis Dotson: trumpet(3,6); Fernando Ledesama: percussions(4,6); Thomas Bacon: French horn (12); Tristan Smith: English horn(12); String Orchestra (5,8,10,12):Steve McMillan: violin; Xi Ming: violin; Erica Robinson: violin; Jim McLeland: violin; Jonathan Godfrey: violin; Johnny Chang: violin; Trung Trinh: violin; Carrie Kauk: violin; Linda Sanders: violin; Alan Johnson: violin; Susan Barnes: violin; Larry Wheeler: viola; Penelope Meitz: viola; Barrett Sills: celli; Steven Wiggs: celi; Max Dyer: Celi; Rodica Gonzales: Concertmistress; Dr. Robert Linder: conducter.