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Margaret Slovak: Reviews

Undertones

MARGARET SLOVAK QUARTET
For the Moment (Slovak)

Recorded in 1989 with pianist Fred Hersch, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Michael Sarin, this previously unreleased gem showcases guitarist Margaret Slovak’s delicate, deliberate lines, warm tone and lyrical touch along with her painterly compositional style. The introspective solo guitar piece “Twice” and luminous quartet numbers like “Charissa” and “Face of a Face” show an early Pat Metheny influence while the probing “November or April” and swinging title track are in the Jim Hall-John Abercrombie camp.
For the Moment, Margaret Slovak, guitar.

In 1989, four years before her move to Portland, guitarist Margaret Slovak entered a New York City recording studio to do a quartet album with Fred Hersch, piano; Michael Formanek, bass; and Michael Sarin, drums. Through the 1990's, she shopped it to countless labels, most of whom were swallowed up by larger outfits. Hence, this recording of eight beautifully crafted Slovak originals finally sees the light of day in 2008. Since the time of this session, Fred Hersch has emerged as one of the brilliant pianists of the day, so one would have to believe that Margaret Slovak must feel a real sense of pride in this work. And well she should. Slovak always showers love and respect on the guitar for the elegant instrument that it can be...when in the right hands. And Fred Hersch's exquisite accompaniment and solo work on the album signal what was just around the corner for him. There is a delicate sense of intricacy and depth to these meetings of guitar and piano, suggesting that Slovak and Hersch found a real simpatico musical bond. You can hear it in the music.
The Margaret Slovak Quartet
For the Moment
Guitarist Slovak—a patient and lyrical player, with a tone and imagination not unlike Metheny in his more down-tempo moods...

....four sympathetic and smart players...

The spare melodic style the guitarist favors contrasts well with Hersch’s slightly more ornate playing; and “O Solo Mole” is a piano/guitar duo where you can study this in detail...

The nice solo piece “Twice” is quite melancholy, with some nice minor seconds that somehow
suggest Ben Monder...

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The Margaret Slovak Quartet
For the Moment
All four musicians share a similar aesthetic approach that helps create a quiet album that's most intriguing parts are subtle and require attentive listening. Slovak's guitar tone is clear and ringing and her tone is gentle and lyrical...

I find the quartet's concept of time and rhythm to be the album's most interesting element. Their approach is reminiscent of Bill Evans' trio with Paul Motion and Scott LaFaro...
Review of 2008 Portland Jazz Festival Performance

One time New York-based guitarist turned Portlander Margaret Slovak performed one of the more surreal sets of this year's PDX. Imagine Bola Sete meets Nick Drake meets Julian Bream meets Gene Bertoncini, but at a really loud sports bar and you're fairly close. At the Broadway Marriott, Slovak tried to make sense of the situation, situated below 17 autographed Miami Dolphin footballs that graced one wall and various framed action shots on the others commemorating the 1972 team whose still intact unbeaten season record and a Super Bowl victory was threatened this year (but remained in tact when New England lost to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl less than two weeks previous). Needless to say, it was another unfortunate mismatch of artist to venue, as her delicate renditions on acoustic six-string of “Manha de Carnival,” “Summertime” and “Nature Boy” competed with drunk hotel guests cheering on the NBA slam dunk contestants on the TV just over the bar across the way. Perhaps some more rhythmic pieces would have helped Slovak's cause, but I don't blame her for feeling defeated before she even stroked her first string. This said, listeners were on the edge of their seats intently soaking in the beautiful chords and what sounds they could decipher and digest, all trying our best to ignore the pandemonium outside our bubble of music.
Margaret Slovak
New Wings
A fine guitarist with a quiet sound and a lyrical style, Margaret Slovak is originally from Denver and is currently based in Portland. Her first CD, "Undying Hope," featured her guitar solos in 1998 and received good reviews. While part of the way through recording her most recent set, "New Wings," Ms. Slovak was seriously hurt in a car accident in January 2003, injuring her right hand and making it difficult for her to use two of her fingers. She has since fought her way back and she completed "New Wings" in Dec. 2004.
Comprised of five solos and eight duets with either guitarist Doug Smith, bassist Dave Captein or pianist George Mitchell, the set has Margaret Slovak interpreting 11 originals, a song by Egberto Gismonti and the standard "In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning." While much of the playing is introspective and thoughtful, there are occasional medium-tempo tunes included for variety. One cannot tell, listening to these performances, that the guitarist had lost some of her technical ability and was making a comeback.
There is a unified feel to the program along with an uplifting spirit. Margaret Slovak deserves to be heard and her recovery from her injuries should be celebrated. Recommended and available from www.margaretslovak.com.
Margaret Slovak
New Wings
Slovak's CD beautiful.

The story behind this disc is as heartbreaking as some of the music, but also just as beautiful. Slovak is a longtime Portland musician, her intricate guitar work impressing jazz and classical fans alike. After playing in smoky bars, she dedicated much of her time to working at hospices and hospital units, playing her lovely compositions for the sick and dying, including her mother and the late great bassist LeRoy Vinnegar. She brought joy to numerous people who were bedridden. Slovak unfortunately was involved in a bad car wreck that injured her nerves and which affected the function of her right hand. After two years of intense rehabilitation, she regained 70% of the function in her hand and started recording this disc of songs she plays to patients. While it is frustrating for her to not have the full use of her hand, she still plays wonderfully and has recently started playing publicaly again. She has finished the recording, and her songs are rich and intricate. Her finger-picking style is somewhere between Segovia and Pat Metheny when he plays acoustic. She performs solo on most of the disc, but Dave Captein and Doug Smith make appearances on bass and guitar respectively, and George Mitchell plays piano on one track as well. The music is soothing yet interesting in its complexity. Perfect for bedside manners. One hopes that Slovak continues her recovery so she can continue to help people in their times of need. Four star rating.
Kyle O'Brien - Oregon's Jazzscene Magazine
Margaret Slovak
New Wings
Death and dying: Not subjects you'd associate with the lyrical beauty of guitarist Margaret Slovak's latest CD, "New Wings." But many of these original compositions reflect her experience as resident musician at several Portland-area hospitals, where she plays for patients in ICU, oncology, trauma and hospice units.

That may explain why they feel so profoundly healing. Though inspired by people who are acutely ill, the goal of the music - "to communicate reassurance or hope and sooth fear and pain," Slovak says - seems to work equally well for everyday anguish.

These compositions can take you places both far away and deep inside, primarily because they are so compellingly narrative. "I'll Look Forward to Seeing You," for example, with acoustic bassist Dave Captein and Slovak on a nylon-string instrument, begins with chiming, Bach-like figures, a measured cadence that gradually acquires ornamentation as it leads to a lilting, contemporary melody where the bass adds buoyancy and swing. Later, a bossa nova beat animates the original figure. Restrained at first, Captein breaks loose before they return to the buoyant melody that closes the journey.

The story behind the story of this CD is how Slovak learned to apply the healing to herself.

Two years ago, nerve damage from an auto accident robbed Slovak of the use of her right hand, which is essential for her jazz and classical technique. Now, after extensive physical therapy, as well as adapting her repertoire and approach, Slovak has regained much of the function in her hand. Though frightening and frustrating, the process taught her that what matters most in music is the comfort and peace it brings.

The title tune (as well as her painting on the cover) was composed during recovery. It's a model for the simplicity that gives her music its power. But that doesn't mean Slovak belongs in the New Age category; complex harmonies and rhythmic variety place her squarely in the chamber jazz camp.
Lynn Darroch - Oregonian - A & E
Margaret Slovak
New Wings
Just the Right Touch
Margaret Slovak is an artist that wears many hats. She is an artist with painter's colors, an artist with acoustic sound and a musical healer of weary spirits. For her the journey began in 1994. Like the little drummer boy of old, the only gift she could give her mother as she lay in the hospital fading from life was the gift of her music. If there is a better gift than giving totally of oneself, than I don’t know what it could be.

Margaret realized that it was a gift that many could benefit from and she gave it willingly to those is hospices and hospitals. New Wings is a gift to listeners as she plucks the nylon strings of her guitar and produces sweet, mellow offerings that heal on contact. Her journey to this point wasn't an easy one. After a debilitating car accident she thought she might never play again, but I guess overcoming physical and emotional obstacles is a specialty of hers. I could not possibly begin to recount her painful and arduous rehabilitation to something akin to normalcy. This recording with its contemporary, jazz and classical influenced instrumentals and dazzling artwork is her testimony that miracles can happen.

New Wings, the title track is a reminder when Margaret started anew. This is her fresh page turned, her new dawn beginning, her crisp, blank canvas to create on. She wrote this song when she had to adapt to a new technique so she could go on playing even after her hand was injured. The sharp clarity of the piece is inspirational to say the least. The melody is sweet and full of promise.

The Answer Within is a jazz tinged tune with an almost Brubekian aura. Margaret plays her electric guitar against a glitzy piano score (George Mitchell) as she searches for the answers in a place most people look in last. This tune was an unexpected surprise and a welcome one.

Memoria E Fado is a song about how the memories fade, but the music is quite memorable. It is a gentle ballad that is a reminder that no matter how small the contribution is given unselfishly to the living, the score is tallied at a higher level and never forgotten. No small comfort goes unnoticed, no smile is ever forgotten. This was my favorite cut on New Wings and often plays on in my mind.


A cut almost eight minutes long Jesse's Heart is as somber as it is sophisticated. Using just a guitar and acoustic bass Margaret's homage to nephew Jesse changes in tone from serious to lightheartedness and back again. This is the story of personal growth and of change in a light jazz format. This is another favorite for its great continuity and refreshing flow.

To Let Go starts haltingly, tentatively and sweetly. Of all the cuts on the album this is the one that brought back pleasant memories of an often played Christopher Parkening album. This is Margaret's melancholy farewell to her mother and you can tell she strained over the melody for perhaps a lifetime. This is the thank you and the I love you turned into music. This is the most excellent cut on the album and the most emotional.

It is touching to me that many of the songs are "In Memoriam" to her friends and acquaintances, but inspiration generally comes from every day life. There is a beautiful, sweet sadness to the music that begs to be listened to, wept over and then played again. Oh, and Margaret, you were worried about your performances not being flawless. Don’t fret. They are perfect.

Rating: Very Good
Margaret Slovak
New Wings
Those of us who enjoy Margaret Slovak's music are thrilled that she has come almost all the way back from an auto accident so serious that she couldn't play for a long period of time. While this album of mostly original music may not be strictly defined as jazz, it is easily beautiful, serene, acoustic guitar music well worth your attention. My special thanks to Margaret for In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning. Four star rating.
Margaret Slovak
Undying Hope
“Margaret Slovak’s music is a complete statement. Beautiful guitar playing and deeply personal and resonant original compositions. The biggest compliment I can pay her is that her CD stayed in my CD changer for a long time.”
Kenny Werner - Pianist/composer
Margaret Slovak
Undying Hope
“I hope this album will move you as it moved me. Margaret’s pieces, as well as her paintings, have a beautiful simplicity which really affected me.”
Kenny Wheeler - Trumpeter/composer
“ ...Margaret Slovak’s “UNDYING HOPE” is a work of tremendous beauty, born of great talent, touch, and dedication. A gorgeous recording filled with thoughtful and challenging performances. “
Steve Khan - Guitarist/composer
“Margaret is a very talented guitarist with a lyrical approach and a wonderful sense of sound and tone - highly recommended.”
Dave Liebman - Saxophonist/composer
“Margaret’s songs and solos have a distinctive melodic and lyrical style, that will draw you in and open your ears.”
John Abercrombie - Guitarist/composer
“...the best example of feminine fretwork since Emily Remler...if Bill Evans played guitar, he’d probably sound like Slovak, which gives you an idea of how good she is.”
Dave McElfresh - Cadence Review