Friday, December 8, 2017

Steve Slagle's Dedication

If you read last week's review of Dave Stryker's Strykin' Ahead in Positive Feedback, which you can read here, I make the subtle suggestion that Stryker is everywhere in the world of contemporary jazz, perhaps one of its biggest stars in 2017. So I wasn't the least surprised to see him as a featured guest on saxophonist Steve Slagle's new album Tribute. For the record, this is not Slagle's tribute to the semi-ubiquitous Stryker--each of these nine tracks is dedicated to a particular performer who inspired the recording such as Sonny Rollins, Steve Swallow, Jackie McLean, Wayne Shorter and so on.

Slagle even dedicates some of these songs to ideas--"Major In Come" is dedicated to the concept of "swing" in jazz and "Triste Beleza" is dedicated to the "great spirit of the music of Brazil." Dave Stryker, as uniquely talented as he is, even takes a step back from the edge of the stage to allow Slagle to pay each of these tributes--it is the saxophone that carries the heart and soul of this album forward.

Slagle isn't a stranger to me either. I reviewed his last album, Alto Manhattan, earlier this year. I focused on the fact that AM was wild around edges and full of measured chaos, which I loved. "[It] impressed me with its breathlessness, its furor," I wrote. This observation was relative, of course--I was reacting to the fact that my review pile at the time was rich with journeymen performers who were competent and capable and dedicated but perhaps lacked a bit of spark. On Dedication, Slagle is still using the same core of musicians (drummer Bill Stewart, bassist Scott Colley and pianist Lawrence Fields), and has added Cuban percussionist Roman Diaz. So is this a continuation of the same wild spirit of Alto Manhattan?

I'm going to say it's somewhere in between. Dedication is certainly as inspired as anything else Slagle has done. It's just a little more clear-headed than usual. Each performer has perhaps a bit more focus and restraint than the last time out, and while this new attitude makes Dedication more calm and reflective, it doesn't rob the music of its primal energy and brilliance. Imagine Alto Manhattan as a performance you want to hear at the beginning of the evening to get you all pumped up, and Dedication as the late night session that eases you into a night of vivid dreaming. Even with Stryker, one of jazz's most exciting guitarists, Slagle's ensemble is magical yet precise. Highly recommended.

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