Reviews

Guitarist Margaret Slovak’s style is deeply personal and rooted in her multifaceted creative background. Also an accomplished graphic artist, Slovak writes music that is almost visual while she imbues her drawings with musicality. On her fourth release as a leader, the intimate Ballad For Brad, Slovak presents entirely original material penned in celebration of various life events and people close to her. For instance, she composed the contemplative title track for her husband, who was battling cancer in 2019. Opening with a guitar fugue, it metamorphoses into a bittersweet tune with gently sashaying refrains that brim with understated passion. Bassist Harvie S engages Slovak in a shimmering and tender duet, while drummer Michael Sarin punctuates the dialogue with a soft rumble. Meanwhile “Thirty-Three,” written on her 33rd birthday when she lived in Portland, Oregon, is evocative of the city’s laid-back charm and green spaces. S starts with wistful con-arco phrases followed by Slovak elegantly taking the lead with a serene melody. The bassist’s subsequent solo is eloquent and poetic, while Sarin’s use of sparse beats and thrums is quite cinematic. Out of this Zen atmosphere emerges Slovak’s intricate improvisation filled with bluesy nostalgia. A trend of melancholy runs through the recording, especially on the two pieces dedicated to Slovak’s late sister. On the contemplative “Song for Annie,” Sarin’s cymbal splashes, S’ bowed lines and Slovak’s mellifluous vamps create a dramatic ambience. With superb camaraderie, the trio then weaves an intricate tale with its interlinked individual performances. In contrast, “Forty-Four” is a moving, unaccompanied sonata. Slovak’s nylon strings resonate in the enveloping silence, expressing grief, and the result is evocative of looking through old family photographs. Ballad for Brad is a lyrical work of vibrant and emotive spontaneity. It also balances a variety of motifs with sophistication. Presented in an alluring package adorned with Slovak’s own cover art and poignant liner notes, this album is the guitarist’s best to date.”

— Hrayr Attarian: JAZZIZ MAGAZINE - July 5, 2022

Jazz guitarist pulls beauty out of tragedy and triumph. Real life often serves as inspiration for countless devotees of the Euterpean muse. Between a cancer diagnosis for her spouse, journalist Brad Buchholz (since recovered), the premature death of her sister Anne, and her own struggles with possible career-ending injuries after a car accident, Austin-based jazz guitarist Margaret Slovak has more animus than most. Joined by drummer Michael Sarin and bassist Harvie S., she lets it all out on her fourth album Ballad for Brad. Alternating between classical and electric guitars, Slovak pays tribute to her sibling's struggle on "Song for Anne" and "Forty-Four," and salutes her husband's perseverance on the title tune. Another pair of testimonials add to the elegiac tone: the waltzing "Courage, Truth and Hope," dedicated to journalist Bill Moyers, and the lovely "Flowers for Marie," nodding to a beloved neighbor. The appropriately titled "Carrot Cake Blues" adds levity, but for the album's most potent track, Slovak reaches deep inside herself for the soulful "The Answer Within." Finding a sweet spot between sensitivity and swing, Slovak pulls beauty out of tragedy and triumph.”

— Michael Toland: THE AUSTIN CHRONICLE - July 8, 2022

Guitarist/composer Margaret Slovak is that rarest of things — a jazz guitarist with a truly unique style. And by “style” I don’t mean her tone, which is genuinely lovely in its warmth and depth but not radically different from that of most straight-ahead players. It’s the shape of her writing and her playing. Listening to this program of original tunes, it’s not always easy to discern the line separating heads from solos, for one thing. For another, her supporting players (bassist Harvie S and drummer Michael Sarin) tend to function almost like co-leaders, helping her create joint musical statements rather than just laying back and providing scaffolding for her own personality. And it’s worth noting that she writes beautiful, beautiful tunes. Highly recommended to all libraries.”

Rick Anderson: CD HOTLIST - June 2022

The Margaret Slovak Trio: “Ballad For Brad” – Jazz guitarist Margaret Slovak’s new album is her first in many years, its original compositions inspired by family and friendships, the music being full of love and hope, just what we need in these dark days. Joining her on this release are the incredible Harvie S on bass and Michael Sarin on drums. The album opens with “Again,” which has a gentle and hopeful vibe, with an inquisitive, curious sense as well in the guitar work. The bass and drums have their own clear voices here, and Harvie S.’s lead on bass has a comforting effect. That’s followed by “Flowers For Marie,” which has a more somber sound on guitar at the start, and goes through a few changes as it develops, becoming quite pretty approximately halfway through, like a fond memory you like to revisit from time to time. This track was written about a friend. Then “The Answer Within” begins with an exciting rhythm. I love Michael Sarin’s work on drums here, and he delivers a solo at the end. “Song For Anne” begins in a rather dark place, then opens into a more peaceful landscape a minute or so in, and builds from there. This piece was written for Margaret Slovak’s sister, and it is followed by another track inspired by her sister, who died from a drug overdose at the age of 44. In “Forty-Four” is a sense of loneliness and uncertainty, her guitar looking both inward and outward for answers, for understanding. It is a moving solo guitar piece. “Courage, Truth And Hope” is a title that stands out for me, because all three of those things are in somewhat short supply these days, being completely absent from the Republican Party. This track starts off slowly, easing in, and then takes on a certain joy. The trio then delivers a cool, playful blues number, “Carrot Cake Blues,” which features some fantastic work on bass. “Ballad For Brad,” the album’s title track, was written for her husband, who has been battling cancer. It begins with some beautiful, thoughtful, gentle work on guitar, and grows from there. “Thirty-Three” also features some beautiful guitar work. And “Will You Ever Know?” features a good lead on bass. By the way, the striking artwork on the album’s cover was also done by Margaret Slovak. ”

— Michael Doherty: MICHAEL'S MUSIC LOG - May 26, 2022

A jazz guitarist equally at home playing electric and nylon-string acoustic instruments, Slovak traveled to New York, where she lived before moving to Austin a decade ago, to record this enchanting instrumental set with bassist Harvie S and drummer Michael Sarin. “Ballad for Brad” is a comeback of sorts: A 2003 car accident injured her right hand, arm and shoulder, requiring surgeries plus years of recuperation and relearning. Slovak says she wrote some of the songs for loved ones, including her late sister on “Song for Anne” and “Forty-Four,” and her husband, former American-Statesman writer Brad Buchholz, for whom the album and its title track are named. There’s also “Courage, Truth and Hope,” a tribute to legendary journalist and political commentator Bill Moyers.”

— Peter Blackstock: AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN - June 9. 2022

A jazz guitarist equally at home playing electric and nylon-string acoustic instruments, Slovak traveled to New York, where she lived before moving to Austin a decade ago, to record this enchanting instrumental set with bassist Harvie S and drummer Michael Sarin. “Ballad for Brad” is a comeback of sorts: A 2003 car accident injured her right hand, arm and shoulder, requiring surgeries plus years of recuperation and relearning. Slovak says she wrote some of the songs for loved ones, including her late sister on “Song for Anne” and “Forty-Four,” and her husband, former American-Statesman writer Brad Buchholz, for whom the album and its title track are named. There’s also “Courage, Truth and Hope,” a tribute to legendary journalist and political commentator Bill Moyers.”

— Dee Dee McNeil: WORD PRESS REVIEW - June, 2022

Title - Ballad for Brad Artist - The Margaret Slovak Trio For those of you not in the know, Jazz guitarist Margaret Slovak’s comeback album after overcoming major physical problems caused by a car accident is a quietly inventive trio set filled with original heartfelt compositions and subtle creativity. Joined by bassist Harvie S and drummer Michael Sarin, Margaret Slovak displays a personal style on both nylon string and electric guitars, performing ten of her colorful originals. Back in 2003 Margaret Slovak, an up-and-coming guitarist with great potential and her own sound, was seriously hurt in a car accident that damaged her right hand, arm, shoulder and brachial plexus. After many operations and years of struggle, she is now well on her way to making a successful comeback. Ballad for Brad, her long awaited fourth album as a leader, features the guitarist in top form in a trio with bassist Harvie S and drummer Michael Sarin. The project is named after her beloved husband Brad Buchholz who has had a longtime struggle with cancer. Margaret Slovak contributed all ten compositions and, while the tempos are generally laidback and the improvisations are thoughtful, the music is filled with creative ideas and telepathic interplay by the trio. 1. Again (4:29) 2. Flowers for Marie (6:52) 3. The Answers Within (4:18) 4. Song for Anne (5:57) 5. Forty-Four (2:56) 6. Courage, Truth and Hope (5:23) 7. Carrot Cake Blues (4:47) 8. Ballad for Brad (5:44) 9. Thirty-Three (7:31) 10. Will You Ever Know? (4:08) The album opens with the harmonically jazz waltz of Again and the compassionate ballad Flowers for Marie and are then seamlessly followed up with the enthusiastic hipsway of The Answer Within, before we are given two songs dedicated to Margaret’s late sister: the aching Song for Anne (which celebrates her life) and the soberly subdued Forty-Four. Up next is the ornate, yet pensively flourishing Courage, Truth and Hope (a tribute to journalist Bill Moyers) and that is itself backed by the playful nature found within Carrot Cake Blues (where the trio get to indulge in some medium-tempo swing blues), the quietly puckish title track Ballad for Brad, this wholly heartfelt album rounding out on the bowed bass-led Thirty- Three (courtesy of Harvie S), coming to a close on the smoothly skittish, yet always controlled and accessible melodies within Will You Ever Know? Margaret Slovak, who is originally from Denver, started on the guitar when she was 11. By the time she was 14 she was already composing and two years later she began playing professionally. She graduated from the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. In 1988 she moved to New York City where she led her own group for five years and recorded For the Moment (which was released years later in 2007), a set of eight of her original songs with a quartet that included pianist Fred Hersch, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Michael Sarin. Margaret moved to Portland, Oregon in 1993 where she recorded Undying Hope, performing her originals as a solo guitarist. She toured with her quartet (which included drummer Bob Moses), performing in Germany, the Czech Republic, Canada and throughout the United States. Despite the injuries suffered during the 2003 car accident, she was able to release New Wings, a set of solo and duet pieces and spent 2008-2012 back in New York City. In addition, since 1994 Margaret has performed for patients in cancer treatment centers, hospitals and hospice. Now after many surgeries and a successful recovery, Margaret Slovak (who currently lives in Austin, Texas) is realizing her potential. Ballad for Brad, which most are saying is her finest recording to date, serves as the perfect introduction to her musical talents. ”

— Anne Carlini: EXCLUSIVE MAGAZINE - June 5, 2022

MARGARET SLOVAK TRIO/Ballad for Brad: The electric jazz guitarist is finally primed for a comeback album after a crippling car accident that derailed and rising and promising career. With another appearance of Harvie S who is turning up everywhere these days in the background, this set of smart originals is a warm and welcoming entrée into the after hours club you want to join. Solid stuff from a cat that’s back.”

— Chris Spector: MIDWEST RECORD - May, 2022

Undertones - MARGARET SLOVAK QUARTET:For the Moment.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.”

Bill Milkowski: JAZZTIMES - January 2009

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.”

George Fendel: JAZZSCENE MAGAZINE

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... ”

Jason Bivens: CADENCE MAGAZINE - (Copyright Cadence Magazine 2008)