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.
<I had not recorded a new CD since 2004 due to my car accident and the subsequent surgeries. I had already released solo, duo and quartet CDs, but had never done a trio CD. Ever since hearing Pat Metheny’s Bright Size Life record when I was 14, the sound of the guitar, bass and drums trio was always in my ears, so in early 2019, I started to make plans to record this CD. I decided to record some older original compositions that had appeared on some of my other recordings, along with some newer pieces that had not been recorded yet. I felt that it was a comeback effort for me after not recording for 15 years due to my MVA injuries and surgeries.
However, the entire inspiration for the CD changed when, the night before I was set to go into the recording studio for two days of recording in New Jersey, we found out that my husband Brad Buchholz’s cancer had returned. He had originally been treated in NYC in 2011 for an aggressive prostate cancer. He was cancer free for eight years, but the cancer came back in 2019 and 2021. Although I was very distraught emotionally after hearing the news of this first recurrence, my dear husband and the musicians on the project, the wonderful bassist Harvie S and the exquisite drummer Michael Sarin, encouraged me to go ahead and try to do the recording anyway. Thus, I did the two days of recording on Tuesday, Nov. 19 and Wednesday, Nov. 20; Brad’s PET scan was set for Thursday, Nov. 21. I tried my best to carry on, but it was difficult to focus and play, especially on the first day; I did a bit better the second day.
When Brad’s scan revealed that his cancer had metastasized, a treatment plan was made. In late 2019 and early 2020, Brad underwent six weeks of radiation treatment with Dr. Stock at Mount Sinai in NYC. He finished treatment on January 30, 2020; we flew home to Austin on February 1, 2020, just before the outbreak of COVID-19 in NYC. It was a very difficult time.
I put the CD project on hold as Brad recovered and the world reeled from the pandemic. In March 2020, I finally started to listen to the NJ trio tracks. Although Harvie and Michael played beautifully both days, I was not happy with my own playing on the first day of recording; I had been shaken by the news of Brad’s cancer recurrence. But because of COVID-19, it was not safe to travel back to NJ to record. So, in the summer and fall of 2020, at a studio in Austin, using Harvie and Michael’s tracks, I redid my nylon-string guitar work from the first day of the NJ sessions. I kept my playing from the second day of recording, on which I played electric guitar.
The music was mixed and mastered in the spring of 2021; I finished the CD artwork and cover painting in the summer of 2021. However, Brad had a second recurrence of his cancer; we returned to NYC in October 2021, where Brad underwent another month of radiation treatment. We don’t know what the future holds, but this music is a reflection of the love, the life and the hope that Brad and I share. His support throughout my many years of surgeries has sustained me; his faith in my music inspired me to persevere; his love buoys me. Thus, I dedicated this new CD to my beloved husband, Brad Buchholz; the title track is named for him…
I have played with drummer Michael Sarin since my college days in Seattle at the Cornish College of the Arts; he was in my quartet there from 1984-1986, and he performed on my senior recital! Michael also played on my first recording in 1989, a quartet album with Fred Hersch on piano and Michael Formanek on bass; that recording was not released until 2007. I love Michael’s sensitive, imaginative and orchestral-like playing; he adds so much color and soul to the music. Michael and I have also been great friends for many years.
I had heard Harvie S play many times when I lived in New York the first time from 1989 to 1993; when I moved back to New York the second time in 2008, I finally met Harvie personally and often heard him perform with the great guitarists Jack Wilkins and Gene Bertoncini. I love Harvie’s beautiful lyrical and melodic sensitivity, and his enthusiasm for music and life! We’re also great friends. I was honored to have Harvie and Michael play on this recording; they were also very supportive during Brad’s cancer recurrences and subsequent treatment in NYC>,- an interview with me said Margaret Slovak.
Innovative heartfelt creativity Margaret Slovak – BALLAD FOR BRAD: Margaret is a guitarist making her comeback on this new album full of innovative heartfelt creativity… to get a feel for her abilities, I most strongly recommend that you watch this splendid video first…
You’ll see several cuts from the new album, too, when you SUBSCRIBE to Margaret’s YouTube channel, as I did (right away).
On the album, she chose excellent players too… Harvie S. on bass and Michael Sarin on drums compliment her superbly, especially on tunes like the lively “The Answer Within“… I fully expect this song will be getting HUGE airplay on jazz stations all over the world!
The opener, “Again“, a beautiful jazz waltz that will hang in your memory and come back to you often… the trio is particularly “together” on this wonderful song… I fell in love with it immediately.
Harvie S. opens “Thirty-Three” with some serene bowed bass, then moves on to full trio contributions… it’s an amazing tune that you’ll find yourself coming back to frequently… most highly enjoyable!
I’m always a fan of the blues, and knew right away that “Carrot Cake Blues” would be my personal favorite of the ten tantalizing tunes Margaret and her players offer up for this jazz adventure.
02. Flowers For Marie
03. The Answer Within
04. Song For Anne
06. Courage, Truth And Hope
07. Carrot Cake Blues
08. Ballad For Brad
10. Will You Ever Know?
Margaret Slovak guitar
Harvie S bass, acoustic
Michael Sarin drums