While they've worked together regularly over the years, guitarist Dave Stryker and saxophonist Steve Slagle have never recorded live together and have only one eponymous recording out under their collaborative Stryker/Slagle Band moniker. When they booked two nights at New York's Jazz Standard earlier this year to test out new material for a planned studio date, Stryker had the idea that they should record the gig and release the best material on disc.
That was an inspired decision. When spontaneity is the defining factor for a group whose writing is inventive, but acts primarily as a vehicle for improvisation, live recording is often the best route. Anyone who's spent time in a studio will tell you that early (and often first) takes are the best ones, more often than not; the only certainty when you woodshed material too heavily is that you'll lose its spark. So why not combine the discovery with the kind of energy that only comes in the two-way relationship between a group and its audience?
Stryker has operated below the radar of the greater jazz public, but he has nevertheless created a viable career with over fifteen albums under his own name. He's also spent considerable time working with artists like Stanley Turrentine and Jack McDuff. His language is rich, but he always imbues it with a soulful sense of the blues that keeps it grounded.
Slagle's an exciting player with an even greater pedigree than Stryker. He first came to attention on pianist Steve Kuhn's '70s ECM recordings Motility and Non-Fiction, subsequently working with artists like Carla Bley and the Mingus Big Bandand turning in surprising stints with Marianne Faithful and the Beastie Boys. In some ways he's an alto cousin to Dave Liebman, with an equally unbridled intensityeven on ballads like "I Loves You Porgy, where it remains bubbling just below the surface.
Bassist Ed Howard and drummer Victor Lewis have been working together for a few years with Eddie Henderson, and they collaborated with Stryker on Big City, released earlier this year. A more intuitive team you'd be hard-pressed to find; the chemistry that's developed from Stryker and Slagle's shared history, combined with Howard and Lewis' similarly-developed simpatico, makes for a potent mix filled with possibility.
That possibility is realized on Live at the Jazz Standard. Whether on the modal burn of "Mozone, the comfortable groove of "Boogaloo 7, the Latin-centric "Baba Marta, or the more reverentially bluesy "Muddy Waters, these four players listen and engage each other, making this an accessible set that's never short on surprise. The swinging "The Great Divide demonstrates Stryker and Slagle's remarkable ability to solo in tandem without cluttering the situation, creating a whole that's greater than the sum of its parts.
Live at the Jazz Standard doesn't push any boundaries, but it's an unassuming and compelling collaboration that still has plenty of personality, making you wish you'd been there.
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