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 and Lionel Hampton, left-of-center trailblazers like pianist Carla Bley, Latin giants like Ray Barretto and modern day marvels like tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, 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 datesReincarnation (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 in the co-led Stryker Slagle Band; 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, 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-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 and gives a nod to the late Dennis Irwin, "Equal Nox" is connected to John Coltrane, having been written on the saxophonist's birthday, the absorbing "Quiet Folks" gives due respect to guitarist Jim Hall, and "The Star-Crossed Lovers" is an obvious, album-ending tribute to the song's composersthe great Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.
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.
Mingus In Us; Blues Four; Supermoon; Quiet Folks; Shadowboxing; Alive; Equal Nox; B Like Me; The Star-Crossed Lovers.
Steve Slagle: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone; Dave Stryker: guitar; Ed Howard: bass; McClenty Hunter: drums.
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