Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Stryker / Slagle Band - Routes (2016)

Label: Strykezone Records
Source: Cdbaby

On their latest recording, guitarist Dave Stryker and saxophonist Steve Slagle explore the Routes they've travelled, and the musical Roots they've explored in their creative collaboration of several decades. The Stryker / Slagle Band is expanded to include some imaginative and innovative 4-horn writing by Steve Slagle in an all-original program by Dave and Steve, as well as a Mingus masterpiece.

Some good things go right on, others change but are still wonderful. This terrific album by the Stryker/Slagle Band is great news on both counts.
What stays in place is that Stryker and Slagle remain the soul-satisfying, deep-groove, superchops players they've been across decades, and they continue to manifest their extraordinary collaborative powers. These guys get each other, and you hear it phrase by phrase over their careers. They've often been on each other's many projects, and all the more to the point is the magnificent series of quartet albums under the heading The Stryker/Slagle Band that has produced some of the hardest driving, most musically adventurous, and outright joyous music on the planet. Stryker and Slagle hate bogus sentimentality but deliver authentic, intense feeling even in the million-note virtuoso stretches they can unleash. They're also masters of the ballad. Like one of their most important influences, Charles Mingus, they couldn't care less about Cheap Pretty but have always known whole worlds about Beautiful.
What does change electrifyingly in this new project is that the Stryker/Slagle Band's classic quartet format goes to an expanded lineup with keyboard and three additional horns. On six tracks the full octet plays, on another there's a sextet, then a quintet, and finally one track, "Extensity," that has the original quartet format as a reminder of the marvelous earlier projects by SSB. Slagle has written brilliant, multi-textured, engaging, flavorful horn arrangements that repay repeated listening. You keep hearing new things. Superb keyboardist Bill O'Connell is present on acoustic piano or Fender Rhodes on all but one track, and three ace horn players join the mix: Billy Drewes on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, John Clark on French horn, and Clark Gayton on trombone and tuba. Since Stryker is often a single-line voice in the ensemble and Slagle doubles on alto and soprano saxophone and flute, the tonal colors multiply. Woven throughout are sizzling solos by Stryker, Slagle, and O'Connell; in several places Gayton, Drewes, and Clark add their own splendid solo efforts. Driving the band with constant, ripping energy are bassist Gerald Cannon and drummer McClenty Hunter, who also weigh in with riveting solos. Cannon has also contributed the striking painting "Columbus Circle" from which the album cover was taken.
Stryker and Slagle have frequently recorded with horns. Slagle has worked with superlative bands like Carla Bley's, the Mingus Big Band (where he has been a major contributor as leader, arranger, and incendiary soloist), Joe Lovano's Nonet, and Bill O'Connell's Latin Jazz All-Stars. Stryker--after two years with Jack McDuff and ten with Stanley Turrentine--has, for example, an outstanding big-band album on Steeplechase, Nomad, and four juicy multi-horn projects on the same label collectively titled Blue to the Bone. But none of the work by either player has had exactly the fresh, tartly gorgeous sound this album possesses, the bloodlines here going back most directly to two of Slagle's heroes of orchestration, Gil Evans and Thad Jones, as well as to Birth of the Cool, Hall Overton's uncanny writing on Monk Big Band and Quartet in Concert, and the glorious arranging of Charles Mingus. That said, Duke Ellington inevitably is everywhere.
Increasing the richness of this dazzling project is that Stryker and Slagle have written songs they associate with the complex geographical and personal routes they've traveled to arrive in their present lives. Touchingly, then, this album is also all about roots. Both coasts and the Midwest come directly into focus, and the album's song titles and music movingly and impressively turn all of that power loose. 

1. City of Angels
2. Nothin’ Wrong With It
3. Self-Portrait in Three Colors
4. Routes
5. Ft. Greene Scene
6. Great Plains
7. Extensity
8. Gardena
9. Lickety Split Lounge

Dave Stryker - guitar
Steve Slagle - alto sax (soprano sax #2, flute #3, #6)
John Clark - french horn
Billy Drewes - tenor sax and bass clarinet (#2, #3)
Clark Gayton - trombone and tuba (#3, #6)
Bill O'Connell - piano and fender rhodes (#2, #5, #6)
Gerald Cannon - bass
McClenty Hunter - drums