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Steve Slagle at The Turning Point Café

David A. Orthmann By

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Steve Slagle
The Turning Point Café
Piermont, NY
July 21, 2008

Tenor and soprano saxophonist John Richmond’s knack for matching distinguished guest soloists and stimulating house rhythm sections is one of the salient characteristics of the Turning Point Café’s jazz series. For the venue located only thirty-five miles from New York City in Piermont, NY, Richmond draws on a large pool of experienced players who are hungry to blow with their peers. Alto saxophonist/flutist Steve Slagle recently joined Richmond, Turning Point regulars guitarist John Hart and bassist Bill Moring, as well as drummer Steve Williams for a fifty-minute set consisting of a pair of Slagle’s compositions, a couple of American Songbook favorites, plus a Wayne Shorter original.

“Dear Mr. Hicks,” Slagle’s tribute to the late John Hicks, made for an impressive opening. A rubato introduction spurred by the rumble of Williams’s tom-toms evolved into a rolling, repetitious melody taken at a swinging medium gait. The solos of Slagle, Hart, and Richmond offered diverse takes on the same basic template. Employing a tart, cutting tone, Slagle deftly juxtaposed long and short phrases and often emitted speech-like patterns. Hart gave the impression of gently lofting notes into the air before hammering out keening chords and adding a clipped blues comment. The most down to earth of the three, Richmond earnestly worked his way through a long sequence and then tailed off. In the midst of Williams’s stomping bass and snare beats, one long, sturdy note led to another.

Slagle breathed new life into Kurt Weill’s standard “My Ship.” Through the course of the head he contrasted long singing tones and a tart bebop run before making terse phrases leap across the beat. His solo featured the repeat of a three-note phrase, a long, winding line that moved in and out of tempo, plus some soulful, emotionally direct comments.

After describing it as a “blues with a twist” and explaining some of the fine points to the band, Slagle launched another original, “Leadbelly Sez,” which highlighted the hard, twisted sounds of his alto sax. Following solos by Slagle, Richmond, and Hart, Moring’s impressive turn climaxed with a number of stabbing tones. A series of eight-bar breaks by Williams moved from snapping snare strokes to caressing a tom-tom to simultaneously riding and crashing a cymbal.

The standard “Detour Ahead” served as a vehicle for Slagle’s flute. Before settling into a ballad mode his unaccompanied introduction was jam packed with loquacious runs. Slagle’s solo included a long stretch of whistling and passages in which he both vocalized and played the instrument.

The band took Wayne Shorter’s “Lester Left Town” at a simmering medium tempo. For a time the saxophones blended and then, while Richmond stayed true to the melody, Slagle emitted quirky, abbreviated variations. He began a solo tentatively, as if not wanting to fully reveal his hand. One cutting note led to a pause of several bars. A long bop-oriented run yielded to a simpler, more plain-spoken syntax. Hart, too, started deliberately, offering a variation of the first six notes of Shorter’s tune. A few choice notes were added as an afterthought. Subsequent to a chorus of bright chords Hart’s lines became longer, more convoluted, and he concluded with another phrase from the melody.

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