Alto Manhattan is Latino for the New York City neighborhood "upper Manhattan" (or "the heights"). It's also where veteran alto saxophonist/flutist Steve Slagle lives, making for a nice bit of wordplay in the album title. This is a well-balanced program, with just a bit more Latin tinge than average. "Family" launches the set with Latin-flavored hard bop, featuring fiery interplay between Slagle's alto sax and guest Joe Lovano's tenor sax (guest conga player Roman Diaz also makes his first appearance). "I Know That You Know" is an upbeat blues, with strong solos from pianist Lawrence Fields and bassist Gerald Cannon.
Slagle turns in a memorable unaccompanied solo turn with his alto version of the standard "Body and Soul." He incorporates a number of quotes from the jazz canon, including Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight" and Ornette Coleman's "Broadway Blues." The remaining quartet selections include McCoy Tyner's "Inception" (which is included as a result of Slagle's recent stint with the McCoy Tyner Quintet) and the ballad "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry."
Lovano rejoins the group for a quintet performance of the title tune, which had been played by the basic quartet earlier in the program. It's a hot performance, concluding with a section trading fours that gives drummer Bill Stewart a chance to shine. I had the impression it was played at a faster tempo than the quartet version, and was surprised to find that the tempos were about the same when I compared them back to back. Maybe it's the result of this version following a ballad.
Lovano sticks around for the first of the concluding Latin selections (both of which add Diaz back to the rhythm section). Slagle wrote "Holiday" with harmonica master Toots Thielemans in mind, and dedicates this first recording of the song to his memory. Slagle switches to flute, with Lovano playing the rarely heard G mezzo soprano saxophone. The program closes with the piano laying out for Slagle's flute feature "Viva La Famalia." Another first take, it's a breezy, energetic conclusion to a fine jazz program.
Family; Alto Manhattan; I Know That You Know; Body & Soul; Inception;
Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry; A.M. ; Holiday (In Memory of Toots
Thielemans); Viva La Famalia.
Steve Slagle: alto saxophone, flute; Joe Lovano: tenor saxophone (tracks 1
& 7), G mezzo soprano (track 8); Lawrence Fields: piano; Gerald Cannon:
bass; Roman Diaz: congas (tracks 1,8 & 9); Bill Stewart: drums.