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Margaret Slovak battled back from debilitating injuries and continues to craft warm-toned, deeply personal guitar jazz.
Following a terrible car accident in 2003, Margaret Slovak must’ve had thoughts of never being able to play the guitar again. Prior to that career-threatening event — which occurred while she was living in Portland, Oregon — Slovak had already released a mesmerizing solo guitar album, 1998’s Undying Hope. That release showed great promise while bearing the influences of Michael Hedges, Ralph Towner and maybe even a little Bola Sete, along with some aspects of Pat Metheny’s 1979 solo gem, New Chatauqua. Since the accident, she released New Wings in 2005, then had two surgeries on her right shoulder and right hand in Portland in 2006 and 2008. After relocating to New York City in 2008 (her second time living in the Big Apple after a stint from 1988 to 1993), she went through six more surgeries between 2010 and 2014 to regain use of her right hand fingers.
The remarkably resilient Aurora, Colorado, native, who now lives in Austin, Texas, makes her heroic comeback with the self-released Ballad for Brad, named for her husband, Austin-based journalist Brad Bucholz. Accompanied by veteran New York bassist Harvie S and drummer Michael Sarin (who had previously played on her 1989 recording For the Moment along with pianist Fred Hersch and bassist Michael Formanek), Slovak plays with uncommon delicacy on the lightly swinging, harmonically compelling opener, “Again.” The gorgeous and introspective “Flowers for Marie,” underscored by Sarin’s sensitive brushwork and featuring a melodic bass solo from Harvie S, casts a spell while she affects a darkly alluring, Pat Martino-esque tone to her single-note playing on “The Answer Within,” a tune that also showcases Sarin’s interactive instincts and melodic touch on the kit.
Two tender and slightly melancholic offerings, “Song for Anne” and the sparse solo piece “Forty-Four,” were written for her sister who died from a drug overdose at age 44, while the trio strikes a more upbeat note on the loping waltz-time swinger “Courage, Truth and Hope,” written to honor journalist Bill Moyers, “who has the courage to tell the truth, which brings us all hope,” as she writes in the liner notes. Slovak again conjures a Martino-esque tone on “Carrot Cake Blues,” which has guitarist and bassist locked in some tricky, angular unisons on the head and also features Harvie erupting for a show-stopping solo. The title track is for her husband, who suffered a recurrence of cancer the evening before the first day of recording this CD in New Jersey in November 2019 … the first sign of the disease in eight years. That track somehow balances a sense of anxiety and comfort in the angular lines on the head which alternate with Slovak’s pleasing harmonies and warmly caressed nylon-string guitar tones. Another highlight here is a beguiling bossa nova arrangement of her piece “Thirty-Three,” which she had previously recorded unaccompanied on 1998’s Undying Hope.
“The injuries that I sustained in the 2003 car accident affected my ability to play the guitar for nearly 20 years,” Slovak writes in an email. “I adapted and found new ways to play, and focused on performing mainly in healthcare settings. But after eight surgeries and many more years of physical therapy, my right hand fingers finally started to work again, which enabled me to complete this CD and return to more public performing. It is an astounding miracle that I am grateful for each and every day.” - Bill Milkowski
[caption id="attachment_49546" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Photo credit: Nick Carter[/caption]
Recent Releases of Note
Guitarist Oz Noy, a scintillating electric funk-fusion player whose stomp box skills are second to none, plays it fairly clean on his first unadulterated jazz album, Riverside (Outside In Music). Accompanied by upright bass great Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Ray Marchica, Noy plays a Gretsch Duo Jet with a Bigsby tremolo arm on warm-toned straight-ahead renditions of jazz classics like Charlie Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce,” “Donna Lee” and “Anthropology,” and standards like “All the Things You Are” and “Have You Met Miss Jones?” The longtime New York City resident and native of Israel exhibits uncanny facility on the chops-busting Bird numbers (particularly his blazing “Donna Lee”) and shows reverence for tradition in his tasty, straightforward interpretations of the same Broadway show tunes that jazz greats have been covering for decades. His shuffling original “Riverside Blues” convincingly crosses over into Wes Montgomery and Grant Green territory — with maybe a touch of Johnny Guitar Watson in there, as well — while his chord melody work and single-note playing on Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny” is Oz’s personal tribute to the late, great Pat Martino. Highly recommended.
For those who like swing, veteran guitarist Bobby Broom does it in his inimitable old-school fashion on Keyed Up (Steele). Joined by a Chicago crew of pianist-organist Justin Dillard, bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer Kobie Watkins, Broom sweeps up on a burning rendition of Bud Powell’s “Hallucinations (a.k.a. Budo),” a reimagining of Chick Corea’s “Humpty Dumpty” with a subtle hip-hop groove underneath, a luxurious “Misty,” a funky, uptempo remake of Herbie Hancock’s “Driftin’” from his 1962 Blue Note debut, a buoyantly swinging rendition of McCoy Tyner’s “Blues on the Corner” and the bracing original “Quicksilver,” named for the Chicago nightclub where he regularly performs with his Big Deal Trio. Chops plus soul served up with just the right seasoning.
Following his monumental undertaking of 2018, a six-album set of The Complete Compositions of Thelonious Monk for solo guitar, ever-adventurous six-stringer Miles Okazaki joins forces with members of his Trickster quartet — keyboardist Matt Mitchell, a frequent collaborator of alto saxophonist-composer Tim Berne; and the Steve Coleman & Five Elements longtime rhythm tandem of electric bassist Anthony Tidd and drummer Sean Rickman — on Thisness (Pi). The results are as provocative as they are entrancing. A sequel to 2019’s The Sky Below, this thoughtful four-part suite is wildly kinetic, full of labyrinth-like intricacy and firmly in that Coleman place that is the nexus of odd angularity and funk. From the dreamy and evocative opener, “In Some Far Off Place,” to the surging avant-funk of “Years in Space,” the brisk polyrhythmic romp “I’ll Build a World” and the slowly percolating “And Wait for You,” the leader alternates between Pat Martino precision and James Blood Ulmer abstraction on the fretboard. The group’s extraordinary synergy is evident in rapid-fire call-and-response throughout. The thinking person’s groove music. - Bill Milkowski
Featured photo: Brenda Ladd.