Guitarist Dave Stryker and saxophonist Steve Slagle met the night Stryker auditioned for organist Jack McDuff when he first moved to New York, and they have co-led the Stryker/Slagle Band since 2003. Until now the group has always been a quartet (with occasional guests), but with the addition of keyboards and three horns it is definitely "expanded." Both men have experience playing with horns, with arranger Slagle having been a member of big bands like Carla Bley's, Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, and the Mingus Big Band. So the expanded instrumentation probably shouldn't be completely unexpected, but it is still a pleasant surprise.
The new approach is most evident in the arrangement of the only cover, Charles Mingus' beautiful ballad "Self-Portrait in Three Colors." Stryker/Slagle recorded it as a quartet on Latest Outlook (Zoho Music, 2007), a spare version that pared the song down to its essentials. Here it is given a lush arrangement using the unusual combination of flute, French horn, bass clarinet and tuba. For his solo Slagle switches back to alto saxophone, followed by Styker and bassist Gerald Cannon.
If every tune featured a round of solos the album would have quickly gotten bloated. So the leaders get the most solo space, but not without the added spice offered by their fine expanded lineup. Pianist Bill O'Connell solos on several tracks, notably piano on the title tune and Fender Rhodes on "Great Plains." The latter tune is Stryker's ballad, which also features solos from veteran French horn player John Clark and tenor saxophonist Billy Drewes. The closer "Lickety Split Lounge" (named by Stryker for the Harlem club where that Jack McDuff audition occurred) gives generous solo space to trombonist Clark Gayton.
Routes really is the best of both worlds. It showcases the creativity and energy of the Stryker/Slagle quartet, with the added power and diverse colors of the additional horns and keyboard.
Track Listing: City of Angels; Nothin' Wrong With It; Self-Portrait In Three Colors; Routes; Ft. Greene Scene; Great Plains; Extensity; Gardena; Lickety Split Lounge.
Personnel: Dave Stryker: guitar; Steve Slagle: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone (2), flute (3, 6); John Clark: French Horn; Billy Drewes: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet (2-3); Clark Gayton: trombone, tuba (3, 6); Bill O'Connell: piano, Fender Rhodes (2, 5-6); Gerald Cannon: bass; McClenty Hunter: drummer.
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