Alto Manhattan is a confident and intelligent follow-up to saxophonist Steve Slagle’s 2012 album Evensong. Kicking-off with a blues head (but with a twist) “Family” is a no-nonsense stormer benefitting from guests Joe Lovano on tenor sax and Roman Diaz on congas and some good tenor / alto “jousting” towards the end of the track. “Alto Manhattan” is Latino for the NYC area in which Steve lives, otherwise known as Upper Manhattan or The Heights. Here it’s represented by a brisk boppy number with Slagle leading a quartet on alto.
Slagle is heard alone wistfully soloing over the whole of Johnny Green’s “Body & Soul,” the first of three tracks not composed by the altoist. Slagle’s serpentine runs quizzically explore all the registers of the alto saxophone. McCoy Tyner’s modal “Inception” which first appeared on his 1962 debut album, here gradually transmutes into a minor blues. The affecting ballad “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry,” the third and final non-original number in this set is followed by the breezy “A.M.” which again features Joe Lovano on tenor. “Holiday,” a light and airy paean to the late Toots Thielemans sees Slagle appearing here on flute and joined by Lovano on mezzo soprano sax.
The final number “Viva La Famalia” with Slagle once more on flute, has a relaxed Latin feel and is constructed over a simple obligato bass line, at times redolent of some of Herbie Mann’s extemporised pieces, rendering it as a satisfying conclusion to a very good album.