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Music Review: The Stryker-Slagle Band – Latest Outlook

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David Stryker, like my main man John Scofield, is the kind of jazz guitarist who never seems satisfied with sticking in one style of music for too long.

Earlier this week, we presented a pretty damned impressive fusion side of his with 1998's Shades Of Miles. Last year, Stryker did his late, great boss Jack McDuff proud with a flawlessly executed organ trio album called The Chaser. And now earlier this year, Stryker hooked up once again with alto/soprano sax player Steve Slagle for a return to his bop side in the latest Stryker/Slagle Band offering, Latest Outlook.

That all said about Stryker, Slagle is no slouch, either. He's worked as a sideman for such luminaries as Charlie Haden, Carla Bley and more recently in Joe Lovano's Nonet. He's also recorded as a leader since the mid-eighties. Slagle's got a well-developed style deeply rooted in technique of the alto bebop giants like Charlie Parker and Jackie McLean, but he's also picked up a lot of Lovano's own advanced tenor style and adapted it to his alto.

These two guys have gotten together to play at least since Slagle guested on Stryker's first album back in 1988. But it's only fairly recently that they've decided to turn it into a full-blown, co-led pianoless quartet. Their third release Latest Outlook reflects an apparent trend in churning out a record every other year.

The bass and drum chairs for this go around are filled impressively by Jay Anderson and Billy Hart, respectively.

Jay Anderson is a rock-solid bassist who seems to be vying to unseat Ray Brown for most sideman sessions. And Billy Hart, are you kidding me? A versatile drummer who has played for Stan Getz, Wes Montgomery, Jimmy Smith, and was present on some discs I covered recently by Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis. Getting a rhythm session like this is like adding Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant to your already solid basketball team.
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And if that wasn't enough, Lovano himself shows up for a couple of tracks.

At this point, there's no need to tell you that this disc contains some maximal bebop jazz. But I'll try to elaborate by highlighting a few tracks, anyway.

"Bird Flew" is the fun song of the bunch. Bascially a re-write of "Confirmation," it exemplifies that exhuberant style of bebop championed by Parker disciples like Sonny Stitt. And it also features the dual threat of Lovano and Slagle. After stating the theme together, Lovano goes first and sizzles in his trademark upper register wail, while Slagle complements it with a more relaxed, swinging solo. Hart provides excellent support behind all the soloists with well-timed fills and punctuations.

"Hartland" is the change-up tune written by Stryker, with him providing rhythm via an open-tuned acoustic while both Slagle's soprano sax and Anderson's bass state the pretty, main melodic line. As the name suggests, it's a more Americana-folk type of jazz that is often associated with Pat Metheny. Stryker's warm, mellow tone of his hollow-bodied electric during his solo turn evokes Metheny even more.

"Dear Mr. Hicks," a Slagle paean to the late, great jazz pianist John Hicks, is the most ambitious original of this batch of songs. It begins with a dirge led by a sax front line of Slagle and Lovano, and transitions into a blues walk where both Steve and Joe provide some thoughtful, emotional improvising. Stryker follows with some George Benson-style funk struts.

I had to qualify "Hicks" as being the most ambitious original because the Mingus cover "Self-Portrait In Three Colors" follows. But in true Mingus fashion, it's at the same time a gorgeous tune, and the S/S Band gives it the appropriate reverential treatment with Slagle providing a buttery tone that fits this ballad nicely.

The rest of the set remains strong, from the energetic opening straight bop of "Knew Hold" to the 12-tone groover "Latest Outlook" and the cool, waltzing "Turning Point." The closer, "In Just Time," is the kind of challenging modern bop tune that Michael Brecker could have conceived of.

It's a recurring theme on this space, but there are times where cutting edge, dissonant jazz is on the menu and other times where the mood calls for the more comfortable, traditional jazz. When it's the latter, execution, top-drawer musicianship, and consistency is a must. And Latest Outlook by the Stryker/Slagle Band fills that bill.

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