Well-Traveled 'Routes' by The Stryker/Slagle Band Expanded Proves Worth the Trip (REVIEW)
Guitarist Dave Stryker and saxophonist Steve Slagle have been playing together since 1986. In 2003, they finally released their self-titled Stryker/Slagle Band debut and have stayed as a quartet ever since...until now. On Routes (Strikezone Records), the quartet doubles to an octet awkwardly called The Stryker/Slagle Band Expanded on a travelogue of their favorite locales. The one cover is a sublime take of the challenging "Self-Portrait in Three Colors" by Charles Mingus [1922-1979].
Doubling down on the sound has proved to be a master-stroke: the flavors that Billy Drewes adds on tenor sax and bass clarinet chime in beautifully with Slagle's alto and soprano sax. Then there's the keyboards of Bill O'Connell, the tuba and trombone of Clark Gayton and, just for some extra seasoning, the French horn of John Clark. Not all are heard on every track, but Slagle's horn arrangements mix and match each horn for specific duties and the result is eminently listenable. (The octet is on six tracks with the remaining three tracks utilizing a sextet, quintet and the original quartet.)
Los Angeles gets two nods: the opening "City of Angels" and "Gardena," Slagle's original neighborhood. "Ft. Greene Scene," in all its furious hustle and bustle, approximates the Brooklyn area where the two leaders lived and met. From the "Great Plains" of the Midwest to Harlem's "Lickety Split Lounge" where Stryker first auditioned for Jack McDuff's band, the Routes are as wide-ranging as they are entertaining. (The former is spacious, airy and haunting, the latter is a funky blues shuffle.)
Recorded in Paramus, New Jersey last December, with a striking Gerald Cannon painting ("Columbus Circle") as its cover, Routes is also meant to be a fond look-back at the musical roots of the two leaders. Most important, there's enough going on here to engage even the most casual of jazz listeners.