Steve Slagle – Alto Manhattan

REVIEW: Steve Slagle - Alto Manhattan (Panorama)

Steve Slagle – Alto Manhattan (Panorama)

The phrase “Alto Manhattan,” in addition to invoking Steve Slagle’s main horn and urban sound, is Latino for “Upper Manhattan,” a shout-out to Slagle’s Washington Heights home of the past 20 years. The dual reference, in other words, is a meaningful one, as are those that occur in Slagle’s playing. If he quotes another tune during a solo, he doesn’t do so to be clever but to enhance the emotional and thematic depth of the performance. Take, for example, his five-minute, solo-sax rendition of “Body and Soul,” which morphs briefly into Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman,” imbuing the older classic with still more longing.

Six of the nine tunes on Alto Manhattan are originals, including the title cut, which is presented twice: once as a quartet and once with Joe Lovano joining on tenor sax. Slagle and Lovano have recorded on one another’s albums since 1991, and their shared love of rapid tempos has always paired well. Lovano also plays on the opening piece, “Family,” a Latin-jazz original that burns hotter than anything else on the album, and on “Holiday,” a tribute to Toots Thielemans, with Slagle on flute and Lovano on G-mezzo soprano. The group is rounded out by pianist Lawrence Fields, bassist Gerald Cannon, drummer Bill Stewart, and, on congas for three tunes, Roman Diaz.

The original “I Know That You Know” sounds like a song of regret, with a melody line slurring to find a comfortable center. Whatever the “you” knows, he or she’s got it bad and that ain’t good. The chestnut “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry” showcases Slagle’s sensitive balladry, while McCoy Tyner’s “Inception” features his ebullient tone and phrasing. “Viva la Familia,” the closing number on which the leader plays flute, sounds like an ideal family gathering — lively, amiable and celebratory.

Sascha Feinstein

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