In this era of ever-shifting alliances and endlessly malleable bands, guitarist Dave Stryker and alto and soprano saxophonist/flutist Steve Slagle have achieved, for two decades, a contemporary rarity: a band with a distinct, highly developed sound. In order to do so, both have shed some of their own stylistic characteristics—Stryker’s fondness for soul jazz, Slagle’s more extroverted side (see his big-band work)—to blend in a unique, pianoless quartet setting. On this CD, as often in person and even on their last recording, tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano guests, this time on four of the nine tracks.
The co-leaders have further fashioned their own sound for the band by contributing most of the book. Here they each supply four originals, filling out the program with a beguiling duet, acoustic guitar and flute, on Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s “Fingers in the Wind.” Slagle is the more adventurous composer, structurally and rhythmically, offering quintet versions of a beat-shifting neo-bop “Skee,” a perky odd-time “Six Four Teo,” and an extended-form, heavily Charles Mingus-influenced ballad, “Hopewell’s Last.” Stryker is more melodic and in-the-pocket on his tunes, including a fetching power ballad for quintet, “Brighter Days,” with shifting sax leads and a Latin rhythm added for the guitar solo. This is a nimble band, with our without Lovano, one that revels in the openness of the guitar/sax format, ably abetted by bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Victor Lewis, exploiting it creatively.