Jan 30, 2022
When I spoke with saxophonist Steve Slagle last summer, he had a number of projects ready to go. One of those, his first album of all ballads, Ballads: Into The Heart Of It, will be released in February on Panorama Records. The album features pianist Bruce Barth, bassist Ugonna Okegwo, drummer Jason Tiemann and Richard Sussman, who provides synth orchestrations and drum programming to great effect on three selections. Add to that lineup special guest Randy Brecker on trumpet, and you just know this is going to be good.
As Slagle says during our conversation, the album should really be “nine ballads and a burner,” as Brecker and Slagle take off on the final tune of the album, “Big Mac.” But it’s the slower tunes – never with heavy handed arrangements or cliched approaches – that shine, from the Miles/Bill Evans classic “Blue in Green” and Thelonius Monk’s “Reflections,” to a reimagined take on “My One and Only Love.” Slagle originals like “The Four Margarets” and “Si,See” stand up well against these classics, giving the band members ample time to shine.
Slagle has played at the highest level since his first days on the scene in New York, playing with the likes of Machito and his Afro-Cubans, Ray Barretto, Steve Kuhn, Lionel Hampton, and Charlie Haden. He continues to arrange and play with the Mingus Big Band, currently holding down weekly gigs at the Django in Manhattan. Ballads: Into The Heart Of It is another of his projects as a leader, and he hopes to get the band on the road through the early Spring. They are tentatively set to appear at Smalls on February 4th and 5th.
Podcast 875 is my conversation with Steve, as we talk how to pick and choose ballads, the unique challenges that come from playing slower tunes, and the genesis of a number of the songs on the album. Musical selections include the striking “My One and Only Love” and the seldom heard Stevie Wonder penned “Kiss Lonely Goodbye.”