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So what did you do during the Great Pandemic? New York journeyman saxophonist and composer Steve Slagle has a quick answer. “With everything cut off, I was in another sense freed, and on March 30, 2020, right after NYC was shut down, the first piece of this new album came while playing sax, and I developed it into a two-horn composition, pretty and peaceful,” he explains in a press release for his latest recording.
That tune, “Nascentia” (Latin for birth), is also the title of the album. And it is indeed a quiet groover, launched with a chill, woody figure by bassist Ugonna Okegwo and built on the lilting unison and harmony lines of Slagle and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, who plays on half of the album’s 10 tracks. The pair craft animated solos and provide light-touch accompaniment, spurring pianist Bruce Barth’s sprawling improvisation.
The track caps the five-song “Nascentia Suite,” also featuring the quick-tempo, punchy “All Up in It” and the swing-to-Latin “Agama,” both folding trombonist Clark Gayton into the horn section, and two short unaccompanied interludes by drummer Jason Tiemann and Okegwo, respectively. Other textures crop up here, too, including the airy lightness of Slagle’s flute, in tandem with trumpet and trombone and soloing on Harold Mabern’s color-shifting “I Remember Britt,” written for trombonist Britt Woodman. Slagle penned the closing ballad, “A Friend in Need,” for the late Michael Brecker, who is also seemingly referenced on album opener “We Release,” its modal, stair-stepping construction reminiscent of Brecker-era Steps Ahead.
Also in the mix are breezy swinger “Who Compares to You?” and the hard-driving “New Note,” with more bracing solos from Pelt and Slagle. As Slagle and company handily demonstrate, creative artists keep creating, even when the world closes for business.
— Philip Booth