The initial impetus behind the creation of this recording was the passing of Kenny Drew Jr., an exceptional and underappreciated pianist who saxophonist Steve Slagle worked with, both in the Mingus Big Band and on one of his own leader datesReincarnation (SteepleChase, 1994). On the day his friend passed, Slagle penned "KD JR.," later sending it to Bill O'Connell, another of his piano-playing colleagues. That got the ball rolling for this, the first duo date in Slagle's discography.
Slagle and O'Connell have worked together on a number of O'Connell recordings in recent yearsRhapsody In Blue (Challenge Records, 2010), Zocalo (Savant, 2013), and Imagine (Savant, 2014)but those recordings were all Latin Jazz-based. Here, while operating as a twosome, they avoid that area. Instead, they engage in dialogue that's grounded in earthy exhibitions, soulful moods, and impliedif not outright statedswing of the low key variety. There's a breezy take on a Dave Brubeck classic ("The Duke"), an angular and slightly Monk-ish jaunt ("The Power Of Two"), an odd and unnerving miniature ("Whistling Spirits"), a pleasant stroll through an infrequently covered Miles Davis number ("Circle"), and, of course, Slagle's tribute to his dearly departed friend ("KD JR.").
While less experienced musicians often try to overcompensate and fill every space when working in exposed settings like this, Slagle and O'Connell don't have this problem. There's an extremely relaxed quality to this music, and it's that easygoing vibe that makes this such an attractive date. These two manage to create music that's uplifting ("A New Day"), reflective ("Into Your Grace"), and wholly inviting. While there are no displays of sheer strength to be found here, there's no denying the power of this pair.
Good News; One Life; Peri's Scope; I'll Wait And Pray; A New Day; KD JR.; The Power Of Two; The Duke; Circle; Into Your Grace; Whistling Spirits.
Steve Slagle: alto saxophone, flute (3, 8, 11); Bill O'Connell: piano.