Artist signed copy.
Over the decades and numerous recordings together, Dave Stryker and Steve Slagle have earned a reputation as one of the best musical partnerships in jazz, with Stryker’s “blue-to-the-bone” guitar style meshing wonderfully with Slagle’s hard bop saxophones and flute. This is a singular and most significant album from the Stryker / Slagle Band, thanks to Slagle’s polished and fruitful arrangements for an expanded instrumentation to perform some of the co-leaders’ best original compositions (plus a Mingus classic), many of which were inspired by significant locales in their respective lives. The always exceptional core quartet with bassist Gerald Cannon and drummer McClenty Hunter is augmented by John Clark on French horn, Billy Drewes on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Clark Gayton on trombone and tuba, and Bill O’Connell on piano and Fender Rhodes, the latter happening to be Slagle’s boss in the equally worthwhile Latin Jazz All-Stars.
“City of Angels” is Slagle’s tribute to his hometown, L.A., with a theme that seems to evoke the expanse and allure of that urban area, as does the blending of tenor, French horn, and trombone behind the composer’s biting alto solo and Stryker’s propulsive flight. O’Connell’s improv surges heatedly with just the simpatico Cannon and Hunter for company. “Nothin’ Wrong With It” begins with Drewes’ bass clarinet vamp prior to the convoluted John Scofield-style theme, enhanced by the harmonies of the front line. Drewes’ dissonant musings are soon joined by Slagle’s ecstatic soprano, who then launches his own assertive solo. Stryker’s staccato, probing attack follows, leading back to a disarming reprise. Slagle touches on his long tenure with the Mingus Big Band through his luscious arrangement of “Self-Portrait in Three Colors,” as alto sax, French horn, bass clarinet, and tuba help articulate the melody with a winsome grace. Slagle’s statement is fleet and captivating, while Stryker’s is more contemplative, and Cannon’s solo fittingly possesses a Mingus-like resonance and power.
The title tune, “Routes,” contains a built-in hard bop momentum that propels composer Stryker’s relentless single-note lines in his elaboration, coupled with some Wes Montgomery-sounding octaves. Slagle’s dazzling effort is texturally diverse, and O’Connell’s boisterous take precedes Cannon’s similarly adamant exploration. “Ft. Greene Scene” is dedicated to Slagle’s old Brooklyn neighborhood, where he first collaborated with Stryker. This funky soul jazz opus produces appropriately energetic and soulful improvs from alto, guitar, and Fender Rhodes. Stryker reflects on his Midwestern roots through “Great Plains,” flute, guitar, tenor, Rhodes, and tuba unveiling the sinuous and enchanting theme. The yearning, lyrical solos from Stryker, Gayton, and Slagle advance over a pleasantly undulating rhythmic backdrop.
Slagle’s “Extensity” is intensity, if you will, motivated by a swirling and priceless Ornette Coleman-influenced, boppish theme. The alto saxophonist’s solo fairly bursts with fresh ideas, and Stryker’s deep-toned, unpredictable outing flows with a deceiving ease. The co-leaders’ contrapuntal discourse then displays a cohesiveness that can only come from a long musical association such as theirs. “Gardena” is another nod by Slagle to both L.A. and nearby Gardena, CA. The expanded group brings bluesy, but sophisticated harmonies to the theme, plus an edgy vamp over O’Connell’s effervescent piano solo. Slagle’s glittering alto venture keeps the flame burning, with Stryker’s then delving into the blues potential a bit more, as is his wont. “Lickety Split Lounge” is Stryker’s salute to the Harlem club where he and Slagle first played together as members of Jack McDuff’s band. This back beat-heavy blues with its perfectly formed theme instigates a series of transported, driven solos from Stryker, Slagle, Gayton on trombone, and O’Connell on piano.