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Alto Manhattan






Alto Manhattan

I Know That You Know

Body & Soul


Guess I’ll Hang out My tears to Dry



Viva la Familia

Steve Slagle (alto sax, flute)

Joe Lovano (tenor sax, G mezzo soprano sax)

Lawrence Fields (piano), Gerald Cannon (bass)

Roman Diaz (congas) Bill Stewart (drums)

Recorded Paramus (NJ) August 6, 2016

Now in his mid-sixties, Steve Slagle has a very impressive and diverse musical CV(which includes early work with Machito’s Afro-Cuban orchestra, later stints with bands led by Cab Calloway, Lionel Hampton and Woody Herman, and spells / recording sessions with the likes of Brother Jack Mcduff, Carla Bley, Steve Kuhn, Milton Nascimento, the Charles Mingus Big Band, Bill O’Connell and others). Out of his varied experiences he has forged a personal style grounded in hard bop and steeped in both Latin and blues idioms, along with some occasional forays into a freer style. The combination is a powerful one, as I know from earlier albums such as Reincarnation (1994) and Alto Blue (1997), both on Steeplechase.

Working with a very accomplished rhythm section – made up of Fields, Cannon and Stewart (all of them musicians much in demand on the New York jazz scene), supplemented by the congas of Ramon Diaz on three tracks (1, 8 & 9) - Slagle is joined by Joe Lovano on three tracks (1, 7 & 8).

The sound-world of the album is nicely diversified. So, for example, there is the quartet recording of ‘Alto Manhattan’, a tune which reappears as ‘A.M’, this time in a sextet, with Diaz and Lovano added. There is an unaccompanied exploration of ‘Body and Soul’ by Slagle and there’s the unusual (and engaging) combination of Slagle’s flute and Lovano’s mezzo soprano sax on ‘Holiday’ (a Slagle original dedicated to the memory of Toots Thielemans).

The very best moments in this fine album come when a number of the elements in Slagle’s musical ‘history’ come together, as in ‘Family’ which is as full of blues intonations as it is of Cuban rhythms. The subtle, but still passionate, side of Slagle comes to the fore in his five- minute solo reading of ‘Body and Soul’. Though one hears allusions to Hodges, Parker and Ornette Coleman (as well as to Hawkins and, more surprisingly, Coltrane), the whole is distinctive and very much Slagle’s own. More conventional ballad-playing is to be heard in the quartet version of ‘Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry’ (by Cahn and Styne). Slagle’s playing here is rapturously beautiful and pianist Lawrence Fields contributes an attractive solo (as well as some neat and intelligent accompaniment). The most immediately exciting moments occur in three tracks on which Joe Lovano plays, notably the second (sextet) version of ‘Alto Manhattan’ (as ‘A.M.’), where the interplay of the two saxophonists, a kind of friendly one-upmanship, especially towards the close of the number, is especially impressive.

‘Alto Manhattan’, Slagle tells us in his brief sleeve-note, “is Latino for ‘Upper Manhattan’ the great area of NYC I have called home for 20 years ( aka ‘The Heights’)”. I wonder if the title of the CD doesn’t also allude to Alto Madness, a memorable 1957 album (on Prestige) which featured altoists Jackie Mclean and John Jenkins? Given the fondness for wordplay which so many jazz musicians share, this may, perhaps, be the case.

Anyone who hasn’t yet made the acquaintance of the excellent Steve Slagle is warmly encouraged to take this opportunity to do so.

Glyn Pursglove




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