Steve Slagle has composed the majority of these songs, dedicating each one of the nine compositions recorded to a special character or thing directly related to his musical journey. For example, the first tune that comes busting out the gate is “Sun Song.” He dedicated it to the great Sonny Rollins. Although Slagle admires the tone and talent of Rollins, he definitely has his own unique sound.
Slagle was once, many years ago, a member of Carla Bley’s band when bassist/composer Steve Swallow nicknamed him “Niner”. That’s what tune number two represents, the nickname given and one he fondly embraces. Both of these tunes Swing hard and bebop across my room, filling it with energy and ebullience.
As a leader, Slagle is in command at all times. But it’s his bandmates who keep the grooves going strong beneath his flurry of notes and improvisational treks. “Major In Come” flies like a sparrow on amphetamines. This title has a double meaning. It’s built on major chords in five different keys and it’s meant to challenge his band to Swing at an incredible and challenging pace. Lawrence Fields on piano does not disappoint, given several bars to showcase his versatile and improvised solo. Bassist, Scott Colley pounds out the time and grooves hard, hammering the rhythm section together by locking time succinctly with drummer Bill Stewart. On Stewart’s solo, you hear the fire and passion in each stroke of his sticks.
“Triste Beleza” that translates to ‘beautiful sadness’ was composed in tribute to the amazing and spirited music that has come out of Brazil. It sounds a wee bit like ‘Speak Low’, but quickly presents a very different melody for the band to embellish. Stryker adds his guitar magic on this song.
All in all, here is a well-produced album of well-played and excellent compositions by Steve Slagle. He has composed seven of the nine tunes and recorded one song written by his special guest, Dave Stryker titled “Corazon” and included the Wayne Shorter composition, “Charcoal Blues.” This is an album full of excitement and East Coast energy. On “Opener”, another one of my favorites, Roman Diaz makes this production shine with his percussive excellence. Slagle adds a flute towards the end of the tune that lifts the production to higher heights. And by the way, I love the artwork created for the inside cover by Ivan Pazlamatchev and titled for Slagle’s first cut, “Sun Song.” Most of these songs are full of heat and power, like the sun itself. This album is burning hot!
REVIEW OF DEDICATION FROM STEVE ELMAN
Steve Slagle: Dedication, is one of the best outings yet from a journeyman saxophonist I’ve admired since he was a student player in the Bean in the 1970s. His admiration for fellow altoists Cannonball Adderley and Jackie McLean is obvious in his work, but he also acknowledges the influences of tenor players Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter. In fact, in this CD he dedicates each tune to a different important influence in his life, including McLean, Rollins, and Shorter, and stretching the idea to include “the great spirit of music from Brazil,” “swing and all its meaning,” and his child Sophia. Fortunately, the concept never gets in the way of the execution of a solid program. Example: Slagle glances at the repetitive figures of “East Broadway Run Down” and the calypso rhythm of “St. Thomas” in “Sun Song, “ the tune dedicated to Rollins, but he is completely himself in his strong solo. Another: “Sofi,” the tune for his 7-year-old daughter, is in 7/4, and includes a smart quote from Joe Zawinul’s “74 Miles Away,” a tune in the same time signature, but you don’t need to have a “hip card,” as Slagle says in the notes, to know that the performance is a keeper. Slagle also knows how to assemble a band of simpatico players (Lawrence Fields, piano; Scott Colley, bass; Bill Stewart, drums; and Roman Diaz, percussion), and brings in guitarist Dave Stryker as guest artist. Stryker has worked with Slagle off and on for a decade or so, and their rapport is obvious, particularly on “Niner.”
Jazz Music Archives Review of Dedication
By the time Steve was 18 he was already playing with Stevie Wonder, and since the Seventies he has followed a path that has seen him lead his own bands, played in others, and more recently has been in the Slagle/Stryker band. Guitarist Dave Stryker is special guest on this album, playing on six of the nine songs, and composing one of them (there is just one other non-Slagle original here, Wayne Shorter’s ‘Charcoal Blues”). Each of the nine songs here are dedicated to someone or something in particular, such as “Sun Song” being for Sonny Rollins, while “Sofi” is for Steve’s own daughter, Sophia.
When someone has been performing at the top of the game for forty years they are able to easily find star musicians to play with them, and each of those on this album need special mention as the combination of their talents is just superb. Lawrence Fields has an incredibly delicate touch on piano, either taking the lead, providing simple chords as an accompaniment or duetting gracefully with Steve. Scott Colley never seems to take a rest on his bass, as he moves all over the instrument providing counter-melodies, and drummer Bill Stewart is never content to sit in just one style or beat as provides fills, rim shots and breaks while somehow keeping it all together. Roman Diaz only features on five of the nine songs, but the use of conga and percussion adds a very Latin feel to the sound when he is involved.
Then of course there is the man himself out front, providing fluid solos and always leading the way. He also allows plenty of space within the arrangements so that his playing maintains its impact and never becomes just a blur of notes, but he keeps the soul of the music alive and swinging. There is always plenty of room for everyone to shine, and the vitality of the album is incredibly infectious. Music to make the jazz lover smile
JazzDaGama – Review of Dedication
In making artistic homage the theme of his record Dedication Steve Slagle shows not only how proficiently he can play in a variety of styles, but the depth of his appreciation of art is. He also shows how far he is willing to go to display his own art in each of these nine extraordinary compositions, each of which displays a profound knowledge of the musical topography that he traverses, which includes the Blues and Jazz, and in his take on Brasil and Latin America, with two wonderful songs that drinks from the well of the music of those cultures.
In “Triste Beleza”, for instance, Mr. Slagle has written what ought to be considered a song in which form, narrative and emotion work are woven one into the other and the third so flawlessly that only a Brasilian could have captured that evanescent emotion of “saudade” more perfectly and that too without having to use words evocative of that feeling of elemental loss. This is a narrative triumph which incidentally is wonderfully executed in performance with dazzling runs, breathtaking arpeggios and liquid glissandos.
Later, on Dave Stryker’s “Corazon”, he not only acknowledges that it is a composition “in a perfect key for alto” but he turns the piece into the equivalent of an instrumental aria. Mr. Stryker’s performance here is a fascinating example of his vocal style. And while it is true that essentially almost every instrumentalist endeavors to express music as if in emulation the human voice, few succeed like Mr. Slagle does, with his sinuous, yet in his singularly seductive virtually “singing” manner throughout t his album.
In other material, of course, such as the radiance of “Sun Song”, “Opener” and the meditative “Charcoal Blues” the saxophonist translates his experience of Black American music into a deeply-felt one. “Watching Over” captures the wondrous colour and momentum of Marc Chagall’s unique work with graceful movement and tone-colours that make it truly “many-splendoured”. And in the gleaming, buttery melody of “Sofi” is the epitome of what a perfect ballad ought to be.
Mr. Stryker has also, once again, picked a group of musicians born to play this repertoire. Lawrence Fields is brilliant as he shows that more than a “harmonic” spectator, he is a direct participant in the musical and emotional process. The same can be said of the inimitable bassist Scott Colley and drummer Bill Stewart, both of whom are exquisitely tender on “Sofi”.
Román Díaz is equally wondrous outside his Afro-Cuban musical realm; indeed he brings the visceral excitement and vibrant Caribbean colour and texture to the “Sun Song” and Dave Stryker’s solo on “Charcoal Blues” is sensational. Both musicians also play on several other charts and bring interesting dimensions to each with breathtaking performances of their own.
Add to all of this is superb engineering by Chris Shulit and you have a faultless musical package from Steve Slagle.