Because every modern jazz artist is the sum of his or her influences, tribute albums with fresh interpretations of classic material and new pieces devoted to that inspiration have have long been a common “go-to.” Considering Steve Slagle’s vast resume, including stints with Lionel Hampton, Brother Jack McDuff, Carla Bley, Woody Herman and combos with Mike Stern and Dave Stryker, the veteran saxophonist and flutist would have plenty of legends to draw from if he ever recorded such a work. Fortunately, he’s more eclectic, clever and creative than the typical artist with decades of experience. His new album Dedication finds him sharing his passion for a wide range of great artists (even including a visual giant, painter Marc Chagall) and genres.
Perhaps the most touching of these is “Sofia,” a spirited, lyrical, lightly swinging tune penned for his seven year old daughter. Driven by a rambunctious groove, his soprano glides, jumps and sways over the playful piano and guitar harmonies of Stryker’s guitar and Lawrence Fields’ piano. Elsewhere, Slagle taps into his love for Sonny Rollins (the percussive, swinging “Sun Song”), bassist/composer Steve Swallow (the brisk romp “Niner,” featuring one of Stryker’s most adventurous solos), Jackie McLean (“Opener,” another rhythmically intense jam featuring Slagle’s dynamic flute soloing at the end), Joe Zawinal (the wistful “Corazon”) and Wayne Shorter (via a soulful, intensely improvisational re-imagining of the legendary saxman’s “Charcoal Blues”).
Slagle also invites us to experience his homages to entire genres he’s wild about – swing, via the brisk paced “Major In Come” (highlighted by another of Fields’ freewheeling piano solos) and Brazilian music with the breezy and sensual “Triste Beleza,” with Stryker’s balmy acoustic strings providing harmony behind Slagle’s dreamy lead melody.