Steve Slagle is a warrior, fierce but yet gentle at times, as he creates on his alto sax and flute. Steve comes to his new release, “Alto Manhattan”, bringing with him the musical stages of his life; those with the large ensembles of Lionel Hampton, Mingus, Carla Bley, Machito and Charlie Haden. Stages with Jack McDuff, Joe Lovano, Ray Barretto, Stevie Wonder, Milton Nascimento and the Beastie Boys. There’s also the long running band he co-leads with guitarist Dave Stryker.
“Family” opens the recording full out with Slagle’s alto exchanging friendly fire with terrorist Lovano. Adde to the roux are pianist Lawrence Fields, bassist Gerald Cannon, drummer Bill Stewart and percussionist Roman Diaz.
McCoy Tyner’s “Inception” became a Slagle fave after he performed it with the legendary pianist. McCoy would dig this, pianist Fields providing the open space for Steve to groove.
“I Know That You Know” is a turn down, turn it out blues where everybody, like a high/low split, gets to declare.
One body. All soul. That’s Slagle’s solo venture on “Body & Soul”, an absolutely gorgeous one-take masterfully done.
“Viva La Familia” features Steve on flute in a latin groove infectious enough to press play again.
And again. Steve Slagle’s “Alto Manhattan” comes out January 6 from Panorama Records.
Steve Slagle – ALTO MANHATTAN: I’ve actually reviewed a lot of Steve’s superb sax and flute work before, on several albums he did with Dave Stryker (just search for “The Stryker Slagle Band, and you’ll find them). This is the first time (I believe) that I’ve heard him as a leader – and he SMOKES! Six of the nine cookin’ tunes on the release are originals, so that makes it (of course) even better!
He’s joined by some high-talent players… Joe Lovano on tenor saxophone & G mezzo soprano; Lawrence Fields doing piano; Gerald Cannon on bass; Roman Diaz on congas and Bill Stewart doing drums… as you listen to tunes like the 7:05 opener, “Family“, your ears will realize that you’ve discovered one of those true jazz gems… part of that is because all the players are present on this one, but it’s mainly because of the stellar energies they project through this powerful tune.
If it’s those hardcore “true blues” you’re yearning for, Steve & his core players will be your main band for quite some time to come after you listen to these guys get DOW-un in th’ dirt on the 7:01 “I Know That You Know“… and the recording is absolutely flawless – you’ll feel like they’re right there in your living room playing a personal set for you! I also loved the reed/keyboard interplay on “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry“… deep, rich tones that will (quite simply) astound you (as they did me; & I’m not that easily impressed these days, since I listen to so much great music).
It was Steve’s ultra-cool flute on the closing track, “Viva La Familia“, that wowed my ears to the point where the tune just HAD to be my personal favorite… again, on this track, you’ve got all the players (except for Joe Lovano), & they are in total “spontaneous mode” – about as close to improvised as one can get. Of course, you may find something that turns you on more, but I can say (without qualification) that this is some of the best sax/flute-led work I’ve heard (yet) in 2016. A truly illuminating jazz experience that totally merits the MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED I’m giving it… my “EQ” (energy quotient) rating for this winning music is 4.99.
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.
We continue our wanderings in the jazz with this invitation to discover Steve Slagle , a saxophonist whose letters of nobility would hardly hold in a box of washing machine. Born in 1952 in Los Angeles, Steve Slagle grew up in Philadelphia and covered the walls of his chamber with prestigious musical diplomas from the Berklee College of Music and the Manhattan Music School. It was in New York that Steve took up residence in 1976 to start a high-level career, accompanying such sizes as the great Latin American jazzmen Machito (1908-1984) or Ray Barretto (1929-2006), the Pianist Steve Kuhn, great Lionel Hampton (1908-2002), “Brother” Jack McDuff (1926-2001) or Carla Bley. He is also on tour with clarinetist Woody Herman (1913-1987) and the legendary Cab Calloway (1907-1994).
In the mid-1980s, Steve Slagle began to become self-employed with the management of his own formations. His trick is jazz more or less strongly influenced by Latin sounds. He appears on albums of the Brazilian Milton Nascimento, travels the world in all directions and ends up expanding his musical spectrum with collaborations on behalf of Elvis Costello, Dr John and even the Beastie Boys. He also received a fruitful collaboration with guitarist Dave Stryker and a consecutive solo discography which now amounts to a good fifteen albums.
The latest is still a tribute to the Latin influences, since the title “Alto Manhattan” is a play on words that refers to the high Manhattan ( alto , in Spanish) and the alto saxophone, which is the battle horse of Steve Slagle . Horses, or rather couriers, it will also be discussed in regards to the musicians who accompany Steve Slagle on this album. Because the rhythms are rather go fast with Joe Lovano (tenor saxophone, mezzo-soprano), Lawrence Fields (piano), Gerald Cannon (bass), Roman Diaz (congas) and Bill Stewart (drums). These henchmen have to their credit some beautiful prizes. Bill Stewart crushed the skins at Maceo Parker, Pat Metheny and is a regular contributor to Joe Lovano, another former Woody Herman. Gerald Cannon is a shark of festivals and has played with all that the galaxy has of jazzmen, in the first rank of which are the Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.
All the compositions of this album “Alto Manhattan” are signed Steve Slagle, except for three times : “Body and soul” , an old Johnny Green standard dating back to the 30s, “Guess I’ll hang my tears out Dry “ by Jule Styne and ” Inception “ by McCoy Tyner (a former collaborator of John Coltrane). There is therefore a classic vein in this disc, which emphasizes the individual outputs of musicians. Steve Slagle charred the saxophone reeds on nervous solos, Bill Stewart occasionally takes out a strafing of barrels of which he has the secret and the double bass of Gerald Cannon comes to give a rubbery suppleness to the pieces. Let us not forget the pianist Lawrence Fields, redoubtable on the ivories and fast as lightning.
“Holiday” is a title that pays tribute to Toots Thielemans, the immense Belgian harmonicist who died in 2016 after almost 65 years of career. This very cool and flourishing title the Caribbean is dominated by the flute, another instrument that has no secret for Steve Slagle. Started abruptly with “Family” , the album ends just as abruptly with “Viva la famalia” , which does not really know conclusion and stops net, as to suggest a huge jam that lasts still now.
Solid, cozy, chiseled and playful, this album is a feast for the ears and the mind. It already contains the first warning signs of approaching spring. Let’s enjoy it!