Thursday, December 8, 2016

Steve Slagle "Alto Manhattan"

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

As anyone who has been more than a casual visitor to these pages will attest, I am very attuned to drummers.

Drummers often take me to new directions in the music.

While I may not be very familiar with the horn players on a new recording, if there’s a drummer I admire on the date, then I’m willing to give the music a close listening.

As a case in point, I bought legendary pianist Bill Evans’ Everybody Digs Bill Evans LP because the drummer on it was Philly Joe Jones, whose style of drumming has always had an immense influence on me. I readily admit that I had already admired Bill’s work on its own merits when he first joined the Miles Davis Quintet.

Say what you will about Dave Brubeck’s music, but after drummer Joe Morello joined the group, I owned every album that Dave’s “classic” quartet ever issued. If you are into Jazz drumming, how can you not appreciate Joe Morello?

Big bands recordings by Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey and Harry James on which Buddy Rich was in the drum chair always got my full attention, those that didn’t got less so. There was only one Buddy Rich.

I came of age as a Jazz drummer on the "Left Coast" watching Larry Bunker, Mel Lewis, Shelly Manne and Stan Levey performing on a regular basis in a variety of Jazz settings.  Needless to say, the recordings in my collection overwhelming reflect their influence.

More recently, ever since I heard his work in a trio with keyboardist Larry Goldings and guitarist Peter Bernstein and in a quartet led by guitarist John Scofield that featured tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, Bill Stewart has been my drummer-of-choice in terms of someone I follow to help move my ears in a new direction.

Such was the case with the recent arrival of saxophonist and flutist Steve Slagle’s new CD - Alto Manhattan[Panorama Records 006]. The CD has a January 6, 2017 street date.

In fairness, I knew of Steve’s work from previous recordings under his own name for Steeplechase, as well as those he made with guitarist Dave Stryker, pianist Bill O’Connell, bassist Ron Carter and with organist Barbara Dennerlein.

And, too, Bill Stewart has previously recorded with Steve, but when Bill’s on a recording date, I always listen especially closely because his conception of drumming is so original, you never know what’s going to come out of it. Bill uses a matched-hand approach in which the drum sticks are held parallel to one another instead of the left-hand forming a right angle to the right hand stick. The stuff he lays down is astonishing.

As a corollary, what came out of a close listening to Alto Manhattan.[Panorama Records 006] is a new found appreciation for Steve Slagle and his music [he composed six of the nine tracks on the CD].

And more than a passing mention should be made of Lawrence Fields on piano and Gerald Cannon on bass who join Bill to create a formidable rhythm section, which Norman Diaz, augments on conga on three tracks, and tenor saxophonist extraordinaire Joe Lovano guests on two tracks.

It’s a dandy new CD from start to finish and one that you would do well to include on your holiday wish list.

One of the qualities that I have always marveled at when listening to Steve Slagle is that while he comes from everybody, he always sound like himself. If you think about this for a minute its huge because Steve has managed to accomplish the single most difficult thing in Jazz - an instantly recognizable voice.

Whatever the context - Steve Slagle has a singular sonority and a unique approach to improvisation. Like his reed running mate, Joe Lovano, four bars and you know it's Steve.

Jim Eigo of Jazz Promo Services is handling the publicity for Steve’s forthcoming CD and he sent along the following media release which contains more information about Steve and the recording.

“Steve Slagle on Alto Sax and Flute leads a new recording with a great line-up of diverse players who inspire a wide range of music playing five new exciting originals for the first time, as well as two classics and one solo alto sax piece.

Alto Manhattan, is latino for the NYC neighborhood steve lives in-'upper manhattan' or 'the heights' and the program here is: FAMILY—This composition for 2 saxes+2 drums is pure jazz, with Cuba and Africa in the make-up of what is a big family.

Note Roman Diaz,from Cuba, and his great sound on Conga, as well as the whole group inter-play-all in the family!

ALTO MANHATTAN, song #2 is so nice they play it twice! The first fiery take is with quartet and then later down the line Joe Lovano is added on tenor to create another harmony (A.M.) Bill Stewart’s contributionon both takes, proves, as many know, that he is one of a kind as a drummer.

I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW is a lyrical alto blues oriented song that allows everyone to 'let their hair down'. Bassist Gerald Cannon gets all the way down here!

BODY and SOUL showcases Steve's Alto alone, joining the canon of sax players who have attempted this classic ballad as a solo piece. Done in one take, Steve references Monk, Duke, Bird and Ornette (twice!) within the structure of this classic song.

INCEPTION came about after Slagle recently was asked to play with McCoy Tyners Quartet. This challenging McCoy composition eventually opens up into an extended minor blues. This is the first take of the date and notice the immediate empathy of all the players!

I GUESS I'LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY, a beautiful ballad starting with the often forgotten verse, is given the romantic treatment here. Lawrence Fields piano mastery helps make this a shining version of a deep song.

Finally Alto Manhattan ends with two flute pieces which are also very central to the sound of the record. HOLIDAY, the most thru-composed piece of the date, Slagle first wrote with harmonica master Toots Thielman in mind and dedicates this first recording of the song in memory of maestro Toots. Joe Lovano’s G mezzo soprano along with the sound of the flute really takes the listener on a musical vacation.

And with that, we have VIVA LA FAMALIA to end the proceedings - a jam for 2 drums,bass and the flute lead. A fresh,original first take played spontaneously at the end of this unique and outstanding recording.

Yes,Viva la Famalia!!”

Artist: Steve Slagle
Title: Alto Manhattan
Label: Panorama Records 006
Artist’s Website:
Release Date: JANUARY 6 2017
UPC Code: 888295511872

Track listing, track times:
1. FAMILY 7:05
STEVE SLAGLE: alto saxophone (1 -7), flute (8 & 9)
JOE LOVANO: tenor saxophone (1 &7), G mezzo soprano (8)
ROMAN DIAZ: congas (1, 8 & 9)
All compositions by Steve Slagle, Except "Body & Soul" by J. Green; "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry"; J, Styne & S. Cahn; "Inception" by M. Tyner
Produced By: Steve Slagle
Executive Producer: Rick Simpson
Recorded August 6,2016 At Trading 8's Studio, Pararnus, NJ
Recording & Mix Engineer: Chris Sulit
Photography & Graphic Design: Christopher Drukker

Available from:


The following video montage features the quintet version of A.M. with brilliant solos by Steve, Lawrence and Joe. [Bill Stewart’s matched-hand magic begins at 2:56 minutes.]

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