Dave Stryker – Baker’s Circle – Strikezone 8821, 57:14 [3/5/21] ****:
(Dave Stryker –guitar, producer, arranger; Walter Smith III – tenor saxophone; Jared Gold – B3 organ; McClenty Hunter – drums; Mayra Casales – percussion)
Guitarist Dave Stryker knows how to put together a soulful jazz album. On the nearly hour-long Baker’s Circle Stryker and his quartet double down on straightforward and uplifting music with expansive groove. This is a band with panache and poise. There is a close and comfortable communication between Stryker (who also produced and arranged the ten tracks), B3 organist Jared Gold (who has worked with Benny Golson, Bob Mintzer, Ralph Peterson Jr., and more), tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III (a member of the Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet and Eric Harland’s Voyager) and drummer McClenty Hunter (credits include Kenny Garrett, Lou Donaldson, Cedar Walton, Les McCann, and lots of others).
The material balances Stryker’s four originals with six covers. Stryker’s title tune is dedicated to the memory of composer and educator David Baker, who Stryker says, “Was in my corner from the time I met him at a jazz camp when I was 17 till he hired me to take over as guitar professor at Indiana University a few years ago. I used to see him standing outside the Music School on a circular drive waiting for his wife Lida to pick him up.” The upbeat and bubbling cut percolates with aplomb. Stryker’s other compositions open the record. The penetrating, 7:27 “Tough,” presents an advantageous illustration of Stryker’s spirited playing. Meanwhile “El Camino” has a lithe Latin facility supplemented by guest percussionist Mayra Casales, who has helped Stryker on other projects. Smith has an outstanding solo during “El Camino” as Stryker and Gold comp in sympatico under Smith’s soaring sax. The blues soaked “Dreamsong” ebbs the energy to a slower rhythmical tempo where the quartet provides a late-night and calmer lull.
During his lengthy career Stryker has revealed a talent for his adaptations of standards as well as more recent popular songs and Baker’s Circle offers some notable interpretations. There’s an elegiac and emotive foundation to the Carpenter’s radio smash “Superstar” (penned by Leon Russell with Delany and Bonnie Bramlett). Cole Porter’s “Everything I Love” begins with a measured mannerism but effortlessly switches into a swinging slice of jazz heaven. It’s fun to hear how Stryker organizes this oft-recorded piece which has been done by Dinah Shore, Houston Person, Keith Jarrett, and dozens of other artists. Stryker previously showed his fondness for Marvin Gaye with “What’s Going On” from Stryker’s 2016 covers venture, Eight Track II. Here, Stryker takes on Gaye’s “Inner City Blues,” where Stryker maintains the earworm melody and supplies some salient jazz stylings. Another standout is the unhurried, gentle “Love Dance,” by Brazilian songwriter Ivan Lins. Stryker perks up the vivacity and verve on the concluding number, “Trouble (No. 2),” based on Lloyd Price’s RnB hit, although Stryker’s distinctive version borrows the melodic theme from the Peggy Lee hit “Fever.” Stryker’s rendition of “Trouble” is unique enough that listeners who recall Price’s 1963 song might not recognize Stryker’s re-arranged translation.
Everything I Love
Inner City Blues
Trouble (No. 2)
For more information please visit Dave Stryker’s website for Baker’s Circle and other albums: