The Stryker/Slagle Band Expanded ‘Routes’ CD (Strikezone) 4/5

D3011R_ORIGINALGuitarist Dave Stryker is surely most worthy of the phrase “talent deserving of wider recognition”. He came to my attention a couple of years ago with the album ‘Eight-Track’ and subsequently a Stanley Turrentine tribute album and, most recently, ‘Eight-Track II’. These are all very accessible and melodic albums and well worth seeking out if you are unfamiliar with them.
Now we have The Stryker/Slagle Band Expanded and this is certainly something completely different to the previous offering that I have heard. Nonetheless, we have a great album.
Stryker has recorded more than twenty albums as leader and has also worked with Stanley Turrentine, Jack McDuff and Kevin Mahogany amongst others. He is also an educator of note.
Stryker and Slagle have been working together for close to twenty years with five earlier albums to their credit in a quartet format. This time the band is ‘Expanded’ to become an eight piece group. The customary driving swinging rhythms and bop stylings are still very much in evidence. However, what is new is the unusual musical textures which the band create with French horn, tuba and bass clarinet added to the mix.
The opening track ‘City of Angels’ is a relaxed, gently swinging piece with great solo contributions from Slagle on alto sax, Stryker and Bill O’Connell on piano. The whole thing is underpinned by Gerald Cannon’s bass. The unison statements in the catchy theme are wonderful.
‘Nothing Wrong With It’ opens with bass clarinet and Fender Rhodes keyboard set against urgent drums which give way to alto and guitar playing the theme in harmony. I’m reminded of the music of Weather Report. The track includes a short bass clarinet solo from Billy Drewes which quickly gives way to a soprano saxophone solo from Slagle, the tension heightened with more insistent drumming which then submit to Stryker’s guitar and more adventurous interjections from the ensemble underneath. The theme brings to mind African Township music too.

The Charles Mingus tune ‘Self Portrait in Three Colours’ follows and is in marked contrast to what has gone before and allows the ensemble textures to shine through in the leisurely theme statement, again with alto and guitar to the forefront. This has to be the outstanding track on the album.
The title track is a pleasantly swinging tune with more great playing all round.
‘Great Plains’ is a slower paced tune and gives us the chance to hear the tuba of Clark Gayton in the melodic theme statement along with Slagle, this time on flute. There’s a nicely paced trombone solo from Gayton too.
‘Gardena’ is a mid-tempo theme and it’s good to hear Slagle using the lower half of the alto saxophone’s register in the theme statement which is, once again, taken jointly with Stryker.

This is a hugely satisfying album, my only criticism is that I would have liked to have heard more of the unusual ensemble voicings in the themes rather than the co-leaders often taking the theme statements in unison. For me this was an opportunity missed. Other than this one slight personal quibble, I can’t think of a better way to spend time than listening to the Stryker/Slagle Band Expanded.

Alan Musson