Alto Manhattan, named for the New York City borough where alto saxophonist and flutist Steve Slagle resides, is a mixed bag of Latin music, ballads and hard-hitting straight-ahead jazz. Throughout the program, Slagle impresses as a master instrumentalist, a sometimes ferocious improviser and a fine composer. From his soulful unaccompanied alto performance of “Body and Soul” to his perky flute solos on the Latin-tinged “Holiday” (in memory of the late Toots Thielemans) and “Viva La Familia,” he proves his control over tempos, emotional rise and fall and empathetic interplay with the rhythm section.
Slagle is backed by pianist Lawrence Fields, bassist Gerald Cannon and drummer Bill Stewart, with conga player Roman Diaz added on three tracks. Guest saxophonist Joe Lovano plays tenor on Slagle’s “Family” and “A.M.” (a second rendition of the title tune) and G-mezzo soprano sax on “Holiday.” On “Family,” Lovano solos using rangy lines and gruff low notes, as Diaz’s congas pour on the heat. Throughout the album the rhythm section is particularly alert to the group intensity as each performance progresses.