Dave Stryker – Eight Track [TrackList follows] – Strikezone 8809, 60:22 [3/4/14] ****:
(Dave Stryker – guitar, arranger, producer; Stefon Harris – vibraphone; Jared Gold – Hammond B-3 organ; McClenty Hunter – drums)
What do Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, soft-rockers Bread, and Earth, Wind & Fire have in common? Short answer is: guitarist Dave Stryker. The longtime leader, with close to 25 albums to his name, brings his soulful touch to an hour’s worth of the best of the ‘70s on his latest project, the aptly titled Eight Track. Stryker admits he grew up with the least audiophile playback tool, “I had an 8-track player in my van. I remember sneaking out of class to listen to music. Eight tracks didn’t last that long, but to me they represented the ‘70s.” His listening ran the gamut from Pat Martino and Miles Davis, to rock and pop acts like Santana and George Benson. It has been a while since anyone has sold eight track tapes (minus some strays possibly offered at garage sales or thrift stores) [In stores, but there’s a thriving business online, with instructions for fixing old tapes and a group of retro fans of the format…Ed.], but Stryker revives the pop and rock music from his teen years with abundant verve and vigor, and reinvests the oldies with fresh energy.
As Stryker steps forward by moving backwards he also does something else unexpected; he adds vibraphonist Stefon Harris to the lineup. Harris augments Stryker, Hammond B-3 organist Jared Gold and driving drummer McClenty Hunter. Together, the quartet romps through ten tracks which ensure some nostalgic familiarity to anyone who recalls the Nixon/Carter decade. The CD opens with the spiraling “I’ll Be Around,” a 1972 smash for the Spinners. The original vocal version focused on a man’s plea for one more chance in a relationship. Here, Stryker and the other musicians present a popping arrangement which only subliminally hints at the song’s underlying pathos. Stryker converts “I’ll Be Around” into a finger-snapping strut, and the way he switches the lead with Gold is just one of the cut’s highlights. The tempo relaxes a bit on a two-tune medley of Curtis Mayfield compositions, “Superfly/Pusherman.” Hunter’s percussion percolates as he makes use of a magnetic rhythm while Gold provides jaunty organ sequences and Stryker builds up a grooving solo, followed by Harris’ impassioned improvisation, which perfectly pans across the stereo spectrum.
The program picks up to high speed again on the Fifth Dimension’s “Aquarius,” which actually comes from the late ‘60s. Stryker solidifies a fast posture, and along the way lays down some rapid chord runs reminiscent of early Benson, when Benson was with Jack McDuff. Appropriately, Gold keeps pace during his solo, and also echoes McDuff’s soul-jazz efforts. On the flip side, Stryker decelerates to a slow simmer during an easy-going translation of Bread’s 1970 ballad single “Make It with You,” which is more soulful than the polished, amorous original. Still, you could set a romantic mood with this on the stereo. There is a similar vibe during Wonder’s 1972 Top-40 tune “Superwoman.” Stryker and Gold maintain the slightly spacey ambiance Wonder crafted, although Stryker’s guitar boosts the piece into a grittier tone. Harris’ spotlight solo during “Superwoman” is the centerpiece, and makes one question what he might do with other numbers from Wonder’s back catalog. The most attention-grabbing cover is Pink Floyd’s “Money,” found on 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon. The intro will be instantly identifiable, but from that onset, “Money” changes into something else, due partially to the 7/4 meter, the blues-tinted progressions, and Stryker’s arrangement, which coin-flips the prog-rock staple into straightforward jazz. The album ends with an enticing interpretation of Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1975 gem, “That’s the Way of the World,” where Harris, Stryker and Gold take turns slipping in and out of the prominent melody. A nice way to finish up this creative stroll through memory lane.
TrackList: I’ll Be Around; Pusherman/Superfly; Wichita Lineman; Aquarius; Never My Love; Superwoman; Never Can Say Goodbye; Make It With You; Money; That’s the Way of the World.