The jacket cover on this splendid new studio recording from OA2 Records reads "Ben Markley Quartet Featuring Joel Frahm," and for good reason: the New York City-based saxophonist lends considerable improvisational weight to Slow Play, which would be a far different animal without him. That's not to say that pianist Markley, bassist Marty Kenney and drummer Jim White couldn't succeed or even prosper without him, only that Frahm's strong and persuasive voice is so inseparable a part of the package as to be deemed essential to its purpose.
Markley composed the album's eight tracks with Frahm, Kenney and White in mind, and they take to them like ducks to water. Frahm is sharp and assertive throughout, with bright and suitable ad libs flowing easily from his burnished horn, while Kenney and White make sure the rhythmic component never strays or falters. As for Markley, his comping is exemplary, his solos as lyrical and logical as two of his role models, Cedar Walton and Bill Evans. Oh, and he writes well too, an observation that is immediately affirmed on "The Last Time This Happened," a warm and sunny curtain-raiser on which the quartet dazzles as a unit while Frahm shows he came to play, reshaping the vocabulary of such eloquent contemporaries as Eric Alexander, Ralph Moore, Bob Mintzer and others to frame his gregarious yet personal point of view. Not to be outdone, Markley delivers the first of his several ardent and impressive solos, deftly employing both hands to produce what amounts to a concert in miniature
As it turns out, "The Last Time" serves as a foretaste of what is to come, as Frahm, Markley and their mates (augmented by Andy Wheelock's congas on "Max's Mission" and "One for Armando") are on their toes and squarely in the pocket on every number, regardless of mood or velocity, readily endorsing Markley's decision to write music especially for them. Frahm plays tenor sax most of the way, soprano on the plaintive "Sentience," which precedes the bluesiest item on the menu, "The Return of Catboy." Frahm and Markley show their azure side there before snapping back and smiling broadly on the bright and fast-paced finale, "One for Armando." More could be said about Slow Play but nothing that would be less than positive or complimentary.