Sunday, May 2, 2021

In "Nascentia," saxophonist Steve Slagle celebrates renewal of hope, creativity

"Nascentia" means birth, and what has happened through a lengthy pandemic gestation is a slew of new

Steve Slagle heads compatible pandemic studio band.

works from saxophonist Steve Slagle, who gives a new disc that title after its centerpiece suite.

He has a great ensemble to help him put it across, with a rhythm section (present throughout the disc) of Bruce Barth, piano; Ugonna Okegwo, bass, and Jason Tiemann, drums. He fills out the front line of horns with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and trombonist Clark Gayton. 

"Nascentia" is in five parts, with the full band up to the hopeful, vigorous task in the odd-numbered sections, with short interludes for drums, then bass, in sections 2 and 4. The suite tails off somewhat in the finale, which is letdown from "All Up in It" (No. 1) and "Agama" (No. 3), partly from Slagle's decision to do without the trombone. That makes for a questionable imbalance in an otherwise attractive multi-movement piece.

The ballad "Who Compares to You?" is a quartet breather, with Slagle poised against the rhythm section, but Pelt is in such good form on this disc that I missed him here: in "New Note," for instance, he's consistently fiery without ever overblowing. I hear him on this date as more comfortable than he has sometimes seemed on discs under his own name.

The fast tempo of "New Note" suits Barth better than the ballad, for this pianist can be inclined to overdecorate if the pace permits it. He's a cogent fast-tempo soloist and accompanist. There are some good exchanges with Tiemann, an imaginative drummer from Louisville who occasionally played in Indianapolis before re-establishing himself in New York.

"I Remember Britt," the only piece not by Slagle, makes quite a nice display out of Harold Mabern's tune, with a melodic Pelt solo and some idiomatic playing from the leader on his other instrument, flute.

The optimism apparently animating Slagle as he looks ahead (like all of us) to resumption of normal activity is captured immediately in the disc-opener, "We Release." It amounts to a credo, making for a fine introduction to the suite in which Slagle places so much of his hopes for going forward. In the theme and interludes, he's double-tracked on alto sax and flute. The melodic flow is rich in his alto solos,  and accompaniment patterns are comfortably anchored in an effusive boogaloo churning. "Release" is clearly the message.

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