Stryker and Strings- “Strykingly” beautiful…
Dave Stryker – As We Are – Strikezone Records #8822 – 55:56 – ****1/2
(Dave Stryker – guitar; Julian Shore – piano & arranger; John Patitucci – bass; Brian Blade – drums; Sara Caswell – violin; Monica K. Davis – violin; Benni von Gutzeit – viola; Marika Hughes – cello)
As his 34th release as a leader, guitarist, Dave Stryker, decided to take on a life long “dream project”- recording original songs backed by an elite rhythm section AND a string quartet. With the assistance of a former mentee, pianist Julian Shore, (who did the arrangements for the project), Stryker called on veterans, bassist John Patitucci and drummer, Brian Blade, to complete his trio. Next, another friend, brilliant violinist, Sara Caswell, recruited three other string talents (violin, viola, and cello). Voila, the stage was set for a sublime mix of swinging chamber jazz, with more than a hint of Stryker’s soulful roots.
Composed of six Stryker originals, one by Shore, and an appropriately “dreamy” arrangement of Nick Drake’s “River Man,” the total package is ablaze with improvisational “conversations” between the magical rhythm section and the Caswell led string quartet. The strings are never overly sweet (which is often the undoing of jazz with strings issues).
Beginning with a brief string, “Overture,” the mood changes quickly with “Lanes,” in which Dave’s jazz guitar lays down lightly swinging lines. Brian Blade’s drums have an underpinning, pushing the tempo. Stryker is upfront, while the strings presence is background. Patitucci solos, spurred on by Blade. Julian’s piano glistens, and we’re off to new adventures.
At nine minutes, “River Man” has a mystery and melancholy vibe. It moves from rubato to 5/4. Sara Caswell has a solo that just whets our appetite for her solo that comes later on the closing track. The other strings also contribute mid tune in a sublime manner.
“Saudade” shows off Dave’s love of Brazilian jazz motifs. It is a ballad that just drips with an emotional resonance that brings to mind a late night slow dance, like a deep embrace. So sensual…
Julian Shore’s “One Thing at a Time” is based on a Wayne Shorter tune from the 60s, with a new melody overlaid, and Julian soars as Dave digs in, taking control. Halfway through, Patitucci has a meaty solo.
The title track, a ballad, opens with the magnificent strings setting the stage for Stryker’s elegant choruses, leading to more Patitucci bass brilliance. “Dreams Are Real” has an imaginative arrangement that lets the strings accompany Dave, setting a mood of true elation. It’s like a waltz between guitar and strings in true simpatico.
We close with true Dave Stryker wheelhouse, a blues highlighting his 40 years on the jazz scene. I kept waiting for the entrance of a Hammond B-3 organ on “Soul Friend.” The tension and release is present, however, and Sara Caswell’s violin solo provides the “grease” needed for its blues cred. It’s a return to familiar Stryker “zone.”
I’d give Dave Stryker a solid “thumbs-up” with succeeding on his “dream project.”
One Thing At a Time
As We Were
Dreams Are Real