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?