The Stryker/Slagle Band Expanded, “Routes” (CD Review)

Together since the late ’90s, the band co-led by guitarist Dave Stryker and saxophonist Steve Slagle — I caught them at an IAJE conference back when — for its latest project has augmented the lineup with piano/keys, French horn, and, variously, two additional brass/wind players, thus expanding the group’s sonic palette.


“Routes” (Strikezone), released earlier this year, has generated critical acclaim and significant national airplay — including a seven-week run in the JazzWeek chart’s Top 10.

No wonder. The post-bop arrangements are inventive, the textures are warm and appealing, and the soloing is often provocative.

And there’s an accessible “hook”: Each of the eight original compositions is inspired by a geographical location, starting with Slagle’s opening, richly hued “City of Angels,” referencing the place where he was born and augmented with Bill O’Connell’s piano and John Clark’s horn. It’s partly a showcase for the composer’s probing alto lines. Was that a fleeting reference to “A Love Supreme” in O’Connell’s solo?

A nod to the other coast closes the disc: Stryker’s closing, aptly titled “Lickety Split Lounge,” named for the Harlem club where he auditioned for Brother Jack McDuff’s band when the guitarist first moved to New York, is a hard-charging blues shuffle benefitting from the addition of Clark’s horn to the guitar-sax harmonies.

There’s lots to treasure on the album’s road from West to East, including Stryker’s “Nothin’ Wrong With It,” cued by an earthy establishing riff shared by Gerald Cannon’s bass and Billy Drewes’ bass clarinet, and featuring a zig-zagging head; a Slagle-arranged fresh take on Mingus’s “Self-Portrait in Three Colors,” with all eight musicians aboard; Stryker’s relaxed, swinging, mid-tempo “Routes”; and Slagle’s undulating “Ft. Greene Scene,” alluding to Brooklyn, where the band’s co-leaders both have lived.

Stryer’s “Great Plains,” bolstered by mellow flute (Slagle) and tuba (Clark Gayton) harmonies, honors his Nebraska roots, while Slagle’s “Extensity” is a high-energy barn burner, impressively fueled by Cannon and drummer McClenty Hunter. Slagle’s sprawling, evocative “Gardena,” also referencing L.A., again gives the alto saxophonist and guitarist more room to roam.

It all makes for an immensely pleasurable trip, one that calls for a return trek. Sequel, anyone?














Music Blogs Sprouting; and Hentoff Exits the Voice

With the widespread elimination of arts-writing positions and numerous layoffs of talented writers from newspapers, it’s probably inevitable: More and more music journalists are running their own blogs.

The upside: Pure freedom to write about anything at all, at any time. No more waiting around for some editor, somewhere, to give approval to a review of any particular CD or concert.

Nobody to stand in the way of publicly asking questions, like:

1)Will Obama actually do anything to help the cause of jazz and jazz education, or is he all talk?

2)If Obama does care about jazz, then why aren’t jazz musicians front and center among Inauguration Day concerts?

3)Related to the above, when will Oprah start featuring jazz and blues musicians on her show?

4)How and why did the IAJE (International Association for Jazz Education) collapse? Or, more to the point, how, exactly, did that organization manage to keep its financial woes hidden for so long?

5)When will another national jazz organization come along to replace IAJE, and how long will it take for that organization to put together an annual jazz meeting as impressive and beneficial — in terms of great music, worthwhile clinics and the quality of networking — as those put on by the IAJE?

Nothing like setting one’s own agenda, and on the way helping to shine a light on deserving music and musicians.

The downside to running an independent music blog: Unless one is a celebrity or a quite well-established writer, it’s all but impossible to gain a large following.

Ken Franckling, a longtime jazz writer and photographer, celebrated the end of ’08 and the start of the new year by launching his own blog – Ken Franckling’s Jazz Notes.

For his most recent post, he noted what has to count for the most foolhardy newspaper layoff of 2008 — Brilliant jazz and civil rights scribe Nat Hentoff was let go from the Village Voice AFTER 50 YEARS at that publication. The Voice, founded by Norman Mailer, and once regarded as a bastion of blue-chip arts writing, was bought by New Times media in 2005.

As noted in the New York Times story on the layoffs, Hentoff’s column will continue to be carried by the United Media Syndicate, and he will continue to contribute pieces to the Wall Street Journal. Hentoff’s latest book, At the Jazz Band Ball: 60 Years on the Jazz Scene, is scheduled for publication this year.

Speaking of jazz blogs, here are several others, some of which are already included in my blogroll (all are penned by music journalists, unless otherwise indicated):

New York Times writer Nate Chinen wrote about jazz blogs, and other web outlets for jazz information and music, in a piece published in late 2006.

Do you have any suggestions for jazz blogs that ought to be included in this post? If so, send them my way.