Dave Stryker and Steve Slagle are not names that trigger sparks of recognition in many jazz fans. Their performance at the Jazz Bakery this week showed conclusively how that deserves to change.
It was apparent in the first few numbers of their opening set Tuesday that Stryker's guitar work and Slagle's saxophone playing were the products of first-rate jazz talents. Often tossing riffs back and forth and breaking into high-speed unison passages, they were an impressive pair. After more than a decade of working together, their musical communication now reaches beyond empathetic and into symbiotic swinging. The set mixed some new pieces with selections from their CD, "The Stryker / Slagle Band." (Though they've performed on numerous albums together, this is their first leading their own band.)
The mood shifted from straight-ahead jazz to roiling funk rhythms and a distinct feeling of the free-flowing Ornette Coleman improvisational style (especially from Slagle). But the high points of the set were "Every Dark Street" (from the album) and the Gershwin standard "I Loves You Porgy." In the former, Stryker opened with a harmonically lush solo passage before dipping into an easygoing groove. The latter was a showcase for a stunning solo from Slagle, mixing a touching approach to the song's soaring melody with brilliantly virtuosic, but never excessive, improvisational variations and ornamentations.
If there was a problem, it was the sometimes uneven integration of the Stryker / Slagle connection with bassist Andy McKee and drummer Gary Novak, neither of whom worked on the duo's CD. Fortunately, the power of the front-line pair was more than enough to keep the music alive and kicking.
The Dave Stryker/Steve Slagle Band
Where: The Jazz Bakery, 3233 Helms Ave., Culver City
When: Friday through Sunday, 8 and 9:30 p.m.
Contact: (310) 271-9039