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Steve Slagle & Bill O’Connell: The Power of Two

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You’ve heard the expression about there being “strength in numbers.” In the case of Steve Slagle and Bill O’Connell’s The Power of Two, two is quite enough, which is to say that alto saxophonist and flutist Slagle and pianist O’Connell are an ensemble-and a powerful, forthright one at that. Both play aggressively and with secure rhythm, so much so that you don’t miss bass and drums. Slagle has a commanding tone and strong sense of drive on both of his instruments; likewise, O’Connell cooks like a big band behind him and throughout his own solos.

Slagle and O’Connell, together veterans of various Latin-jazz ensembles, join forces here to honor the late pianist Kenny Drew Jr., Slagle having performed with Drew in the Mingus Big Band. Slagle’s originals include “KD Jr,” a warm remembrance; “Good News,” a catchy descending melody; “One Life,” which opens with a gospel-ish piano intro and vaguely recalls Ellington’s “Come Sunday”; the title tune, evocative of Ornette Coleman and Monk; the ballad “Into Your Grace”; and “Whistling Spirits,” a brief, spacy collaboration with O’Connell.

O’Connell’s lone original is “A New Day,” a romping workout for piano and alto. Slagle’s flute appearances include Bill Evans’ “Peri’s Scope” and Dave Brubeck’s “The Duke.” On flute, he displays dexterous technique not usually associated with the instrument; on alto, he offers fiery expressiveness. As for O’Connell, he’s ideal as both a soloist and an accompanist.

Originally Published