Whitney Slaten is a composer and saxophonist who has performed in the New York City area for the past 15 years. He began studies in composition and saxophone at Hampton University and graduated from the Jazz Performance Program at William Paterson University. During that time, Slaten received studied with James Nesbit, Bruce Williams, Don Braden, Mark Gross, and Kenny Garrett. As a sideman, he improvised in the New York world music scene while performing with West African drummer, Babatunde Olatunji. After Olatunji’s passing, Slaten became a member of the Clark Terry Big Band, performing in Switzerland and Manhattan on numerous occasions with that ensemble. He continues to write new compositions and perform in and around New York.
Live From Where You Might Have Been
Live From Where You Might Have Been is a collection of recordings from a 2006 live performance by the Whitney Slaten Project. Each piece presents extended improvisations that elaborate stylistic features of music from sites across the Black Atlantic. Whitney Slaten (tenor saxophone), Phillip McKinney (electric bass), Andrew Shantz (electric keyboard), Foluso Mimy (West African drums and percussion), and Jaimeo Brown (drum set) formed the ensemble. At Kavehaz Jazz Club in New York City, the Whitney Slaten Project regularly performed works that primarily explored the musical traditions of the Caribbean and West Africa through improvisatory expressions often associated with jazz.
“Earthdance” is a piece that the ensemble played as the introduction to their performances. Regular audience members recognized and expected the melody. However, the ensemble would perform the melody and harmonies with different rhythms, showcasing a multitude of dance styles from the region. In this recording, the Whitney Slaten Project performs Earthdance in a 2/3 rumba clave rhythm as an homage to the Guaguancó tradition of Cuba. In the introduction, set against the clave and cascara patterns, Slaten’s saxophone solo reluctantly yet slowly and eventually transitions from a tense and meandering set of syncopations toward rhythmic alignment with the ensemble just before the statement of the melody.
“Massive” is an expression of Whitney’s gratitude to the ensemble in the spirit of a widely circulated exclamation among speakers of Jamaican patois: “Big up all massive an’ crew!” The extended introduction of the piece builds incrementally in a minor mode, while representing the sounds of Dancehall and Soca genres. The melody enters, now outlining a major mode, amid accompaniment that presents Calypso. The saxophone’s melody signals the breach of this ostinato at moments in the form, complicating performers’ and listeners’ temptations to falsely believe that “rhythmic” sounds are a cultural essence for a people who have strategically used these expressions as forms of postcolonial critique and social mobilization.
“Eric” is a piece dedicated to Slaten’s deceased older brother. In the A section of the form, Andrew’s keyboard sounds an ostinato of block chords taken from Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor (Moonlight Sonata) in which they are originally presented as arpeggios. When Whitney was a child, Eric taught him the sonata at their grandfather’s Griffith piano. Subsequent sections of the piece resolve to a relative major mode to symbolize Eric’s transcendence. Eric was a professional dancer, living and working in the New York City theatre circuit. The 5/4 meter of the piece is meant to pictoralize his dancing. The performance features Jaimeo’s expressive drum solo.
“Caipirinha” is a Brazilian cocktail made from limes muddled with course sugar and covered with ice and cachaça, a raw sugarcane distilled spirit. Slaten learned about the drink from Conrad Herwig at the bar at Marian’s Jazz Club in Bern, Switzerland in between sets while performing with Whitney’s musical idol and mentor, Clark Terry. Herwig had just joined Terry’s band in the midst of the weeklong engagement at Marian’s after performing in Brazil. The bar at the club did not have cachaça, so Herwig described the drink in great detail to the rest of the band. Whitney sampled the beverage upon returning to New York and decided to compose the piece soon after. Samba forms the primary inspiration for the setting. Slaten composed the piece as a member of Richard DeRosa’s composition ensemble in the Jazz Program at William Paterson University.
On the River Niger
“On the River Niger” is similar to a kind of “program music” that is in conversation with the long standing tradition of Jeli such as Toumani Diabaté, as well as Czech composer Bedrich Smetana’s tone painting of the river in Vltava. This work also represents Slaten’s experience growing up with Babatunde Olatunji as a family friend and later musical mentor, in addition to Baba’s musicians, Mawuena Kodjovi and Mai Lingani, Thierno Camara, and Abou Diarrassouba, artists in the New York City Afropop scene. In this recording, Foluso introduces the piece with a series of patterns that he recently learned while studying from a master drummer in Gambia. Slaten can be heard improvising with the phrygian mode, a sound that he heard and performed in the music of this West African region.
“Red Clay” is a piece by Freddie Hubbard. The Whitney Slaten Project reinterprets it in this recording, experimenting with changes in the melody, harmony, implementing tempo modulations and moments of atonal exploration. Imagining an abstract fusion of the red clay of Georgia to the pavement of the urban north, the ensemble closes this performance with this piece that portrays particular sonic expressions of African Americans through the 1970s aesthetics of funk and fusion styles. Slaten’s dissonance-emancipating “solo” immediately invites polyphonic group improvisation that is followed by McKinney’s powerful bass solo. As a whole, the ensemble abandons the form of the piece in favor of sonically moving together toward new spaces of possibility that uplift ourselves and their listeners.
This performance of H.T. Burleigh’s arrangement of the spiritual, “Deep River” took place at St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University as a part of the “Concert Spirituals and the Black Soprano” program in 2015.
Night and Day
This performance of Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” took place at a restaurant in Times Sqaure, NYC.
Straight, No Chaser
This performance of Thelonious Monk’s “Straight, No Chaser” took place at Altschul Atrium at Barnard College. Hal Weary plays the piano, John Lenis plays the bass, and Malik Washington plays the drums.
Oriental Folk Song
This performance of Wayne Shorter’s “Oriental Folk Song” took place at New Jersey City University. Hal Weary plays the piano, John Lenis plays the bass, and Malik Washington plays the drums.
This performance of John Klenner’s “Just Friends” took place at a restaurant in Times Sqaure, NYC.
A Random Blues
This performance of a blues improvisation took place at Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, NJ. Jonah Jonathan plays the bass and Malik Washington plays the drums.
This performance of an took place at Crossroads Jazz Club in Garwood, NJ. Andrew Shantz plays the keyboard, foluso Mimy plays the congas, and Hector Morales plays the drums, and Philip McKinney plays the bass.
This performance of John Coltrane’s “Equinox” took place at a restaurant in Scotch Plains, NJ. Andrew Shantz plays the keyboard, foluso Mimy plays the congas, and Jaimeo Brown plays the drums, and Philip McKinney plays the bass.