Steve Slagle ‘Alto Manhattan’ (Panorama) 4/5

Saxophonist Slagle has a great pedigree having started out working with Lionel Hampton, pianist Steve Kuhn, Brother Jack McDuff and Carla Bley, not to mention Woody Herman and Cab Calloway. He started leading his own groups some thirty years ago. These combos included the likes of Mike Stern, and currently, Dave Stryker. Indeed, 2016’s ‘Routes’ by the Stryker-Slagle Band – Expanded is reviewed elsewhere on this site.
This new release is somewhat different from what he has produced before and consists of five new original compositions, two classics and one solo alto saxophone piece.
Slagle is featured on alto saxophone and flute. Opening with ‘Family’ the ensemble features two saxophones and two drummers. No holds barred Jazz with elements from Cuba and Africa thrown into the mix. Two versions of Alto Manhattan are included. The first is a hot quartet reading, the second adds a second saxophone in the shape of Joe Lovano, another of Slagle’s former employers. A particular favourite of mine is the slowly loping blues styling of ‘I Know that You Know’. The alto saxophone sounding its most lyrical here.

‘Body and Soul’ follows, allowing us to hear the expressivity of the saxophonist’s tone at close quarters. This is an unaccompanied saxophone feature and along the way, Slagle included references to Monk, Duke Ellington and Ornette Coleman and a certain Charlie Parker.
Pianist McCoy Tyner’s composition ‘Inception’ follows. Quite a challenging extended minor blues theme to play but great fun.

The tempo is reduced for the lovely ballad ‘I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry’. The vocal sound of the saxophone is made clear here. In my view this is one of the best renditions of the song I have heard, even surpassing Frank Sinatra’s version. There is some fine piano playing here too from Laurence Fields.

I mentioned earlier that Slagle plays flute on the album too. The two final tracks feature the flute. ‘Holiday’, dedicated to harmonica player Toots Thielemans features Joe Lovano unusually playing G mezzo soprano saxophone playing in unison creating a wonderful sound. ‘Viva La Famalia’ ends the set featuring two drums, bass and flute lead, somewhat reminiscent of the music of fellow flautist Herbie Mann. A bright and breezy conclusion. I did feel that I missed the input from piano on this track, but this is but a minor quibble.

This is a splendidly varied and interesting recording which holds the listeners interest throughout.

The group consists of the aforementioned Fields on piano, Gerald Cannon on bass, Roman Diaz congas and Bill Stewart at the drums along with special guest Joe Lovano on three tracks.
Apparently, the album title is Latino for the New York City area where Slagle lives, Upper Manhattan or The Heights.

Here we get everything from up-tempo blues, and bop to Latin and romantic ballads all played with equal confidence.

Alan Musson