Though its title might suggest otherwise, “Latest Outlook” owes much of its charm and vitality to early influences (Charlie Parker and Charles Mingus), old friends (the late pianist John Hicks) and collaborative reunions. Guitarist Dave Stryker and saxophonist Steve Slagle re-team with drummer Billy Hart, bassist Jay Anderson and the duo’s special guest, tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano.
Lovano, whose presence is nearly always worth the price of admission, doesn’t disappoint. He appears on two tracks—Stryker’s “Bird Flew” and Slagle’s “Dear Mr. Hicks”—and both performances rank among the album’s highlights, though for sharply contrasting reasons. Parker’s bop anthem is brashly orchestrated for tandem horns and searing improvisations (with Hart vigorously fanning the flames), while the Hicks homage soulfully evokes the pianist’s broad yet seemingly effortless reach and more than hints at his ties to the Mingus Big Band.
Mingus himself is represented by “Self Portrait in Three Colors.” It’s an elegantly arranged, hauntingly paced performance, subtly shaded by Hart and Anderson. It’s also yet another example of Stryker’s quiet flair for combining blues-tinged lyricism with pianistic accompaniments, a talent honed during extensive road work with sax titan Stanley Turrentine. Slagle is no less resourceful, whether doubling on alto and soprano or composing music as fresh as the album’s 12-tone-based title track or as evocative as the Hicks elegy. Also worth noting is the album’s centerpiece, the Stryker-penned “Hartland,” which stands apart by providing an atmospheric showcase for Slagle’s insinuating soprano, Stryker’s acoustic and electric guitars, Anderson’s resonating tone and Hart’s gliding propulsion.