If you approach The Margaret Slovak Trio’s intricate, soulfully exquisite collection Ballad For Brad from a purely musical perspective, it’s easy to understand just why the music of these original Slovak compositions flows so freely and, more important, intuitively, as if the veteran guitarist is in non-stop conversation, whether they’re performing a meditative waltz like the opening track “Again” or dashing into more exotic, percussive territory looking for “The Answer Within.”
Slovak, who launched her career in the late 80s, has played with bassist Michael Sarin since her college days, most prominently in the early 90’s in NYC. She met storied bassist Harvie S in the late 2000s, during her second stint there. Together, the three create a long awaited collection whose emotional core finds Slovak paying touching homage to an elderly friend from long ago (the hypnotic, seductive “Flowers for Marie”), her talented but troubled sister Anne (the soothing, laid back “Song for Anne”), TV journalist Bill Moyers (the whimsical and swinging adventure “Courage, Truth and Hope”) and her writer/journalist husband (the alternately mellow and percussive/bustling title track).
They balance all that poignancy with a spurts of exuberant fun on tunes like “Carrot Cake Blues.” For fans who want to go beyond the powerful sonic experience, Slovak offers liner notes that weave a cinematic tale full of romance, pain, anxiety, struggle and her epic comeback from a 2003 car accident that injured Slovak’s right hand, arm, shoulder and brachial plexus. To put it mildly, it took years of therapy and surgery, and numerous unexpected setbacks, for her to regain her ability to use her right hand fingers.
Along the way, at a house concert in 2009 to be specific, she met her future husband Brad, who has subsequently battled cancer on and off for many years. Slovak’s perfectionism ensured that when she was unhappy with her playing on a date in the studio after she heard about his cancer returning, she redid her parts remotely during the pandemic. Her passionate, cathartic expressions extend to the beautifully impressionistic artwork on the cover and in the packaging.
One doesn’t have to know the full back story to appreciate the triumph of Ballad for Brad, but it truly showcases the healing power of music and a single artist’s determination to play jazz at a high, inspirational level regardless of the trials life has thrown her way.