New New York

COMPOSERS: Mingus
LABELS: Omnitone
ALBUM TITLE: Steve Slagle
PERFORMER: Steve Slagle (f, as), Dave Stryker (g), Cameron Brown (b), Gene Jackson (d), Joe Lovano (ts), Joe Locke (vib)
CATALOGUE NO: 12005 (distr. mactwo, tel 020 7377 6515)

Advertisement

In 1977 Los Angeles-born saxophonist/flautist Steve Slagle moved to New York, the city note writer Frank Tafuri calls ‘the pan-musical megalopolis’. In two decades he has played with a wide variety of jazz-based outfits, ranging from relatively conventional big bands such as Woody Herman and Lionel Hampton, through to the quirkier end of things: the highly personalised music of Carla Bley and Charlie Haden’s Liberation Orchestra.

He is perhaps best known, however, for his impassioned but elegant work with the repertory band dedicated to reinterpreting the music of fellow-Angeleno, bassist/composer Charles Mingus. In its overall approach, a species of controlled rambunctiousness drawing heavily on the blues and Latin rhythms, Slagle’s album (like Mingus’s compositions) reflects the tireless musical adventurousness summarised in its title.

His choice of personnel – his rhythm section has strong Mingus connections, and guitarist Dave Stryker and both guests are long-standing collaborators – ensures that an infectious, wholly enjoyable informality characterises the entire affair. However, the playing throughout, particularly the pulsatingly urgent yet supple drumming of Gene Jackson, is consistently tight and powerful, at once delightfully rowdy and whip-smart.

Advertisement

New New York ranges from the bouncy clarion call of its title track (performed in both jaunty trio and no-holds-barred quartet versions), through blowsy, woozy blues and Latin-imbued bustlers, to the odd achingly tender ballad featuring the eloquent vibes of Joe Locke. It showcases not only the exceptional compositional versatility and improvisational skills of one of the music’s finest reedsmen, but also the sheer vitality and diversity of a city that has always been at the heart of American jazz. Chris Parker