Dave Stryker, guitar – Eight Track II – Strikezone

Making the oldies new.

Dave Stryker, guitar – Eight Track II [TrackList follows] – Strikezone 8814, 65:47 [9/2/16] ****:

(Dave Stryker – guitar/ Steve Nelson – vibraphone/ Jared Gold – organ/ McClenty Hunter – drums)

Guitarist Dave Stryker once again gets the gold—AM Gold, that is—on Eight Track II, his sequel to 2014’s Eight Track. The 66-minute Eight Track II follows the same approach as Eight Track: soul-jazz interpretations of Baby Boomer songs which filled the AM (and FM) radio waves, the soundtrack of an earlier era. This time out, Stryker does striking renditions of material associated with Prince, two from Stevie Wonder, two by Marvin Gaye, some British rockers (Cream and the Zombies) and others which continue to circulate on oldies broadcast formats.

This isn’t mere reminisce or nostalgia. Stryker is too determined and too perceptive to just do jazzy takes of familiar riffs, themes and melodies. Rather, Stryker and his band spin, twist and re-arrange most of the material to give tunes a new life, a different perspective, and help listeners redefine how they might experience this well-known music. Stryker and his trio—vibraphonist Steve Nelson and drummer McClenty Hunter—are joined by guest Hammond B-3 organist Jared Gold (who is part of Dave Holland’s ensemble), who replaces Stefon Harris (who was on the first Eight Track album). Eight Track II is Stryker’s 27th outing as a leader, so plainly he understands what he’s doing. Stryker explains in the CD liner notes, “A lot of people like hearing these tunes they grew up with. It brings people in and they’ll go with you when they hear a tune that they recognize.” The key ingredient for this kind of project, “Is to find tunes that I can do my thing to, improvise and play as creatively and musically as I would on any jazz standard.” It’s a similar method which was used by Jack McDuff, Lonnie Smith and Stanley Turrentine, musicians which Stryker has performed with in the past.

The two Gaye tracks come near the start and are good examples of Stryker’s ability to adopt erstwhile music and reconfigure it. Gaye’s plea for peace, “What’s Going On,” is re-harmonized. The tune begins with a refined ballad-like introduction with vibes and guitar harmonizing as one. Stryker echoes Gaye’s lyrical voice via clear-toned single guitar lines, and Nelson at times augments the same tone on vibes. The arrangement has a 6/8 tempo, which shifts to a 4/4 groove for the final minute of the poignant piece. The lengthiest track is Gaye’s 1972 signature number, “Trouble Man.” Stryker’s quartet provides an earthy and soulful shuffle and up-swinging treatment. When Nelson solos, he pushes the music into some heady territory. Stryker is up next and conveys a bluesy feel, akin to Wes Montgomery’s collaboration with organist Jimmy Smith. This is the sort of guitar/vibes magic which makes someone glad this type of music has never disappeared.

The two Wonder compositions showcase another side to Stryker’s style. Quiet beauty tenders through the smash 1979 soul single, “Send One Your Love.” Hunter focuses on soft cymbals and brushes, while Stryker deftly displays his lyrical talents on his six-string. Nelson matches Stryker’s supple sound. Meanwhile, Gold slips in a slightly grittier timbre during a brief solo. The energy goes up during Wonder’s 1970, top-ten hit “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours.” Stryker serves up an adventurous solo which escalates the harmonic development, and Gold supplies a breezy, soulful groove which also advances the harmonic elaboration. Both assist to drive the number into terrain which seems progressively distant from Wonder’s arrangement (a tactic which adds to the enjoyment), but the band brings it all back by the conclusion.

Rock fans will no doubt gravitate to tunes by Cream and the Zombies. The Zombies’ 1968 hit “Time of the Season” has often been used to represent the ‘60s, but in Stryker’s hands, it becomes an anthem for the classic soul-jazz period. The guitar-vibes combination is a winner, putting a fresh viewpoint on this famous piece. The modish and shifting shuffle affords a jumping-off foundation for some thrilling soloing from Nelson, Stryker and Gold, and Hunter’s drum flourishes are the icing on this satisfying accomplishment. There is an appropriately tougher tendency which filters through Cream’s 1967 “Sunshine of Your Love,” which blended hard rock, psychedelia, and pop. Stryker dispenses with those elements (or at least, he downplays them). In its place, the foursome modifies this into a foot-shaking rumbler. You can tell the group is having a heck of a good time, and this is also probably a crowd pleaser. It certainly sounds great when the speakers are turned up a few extra notches. Stryker admits “Sunshine of Your Love” holds a special memory for him. “I have a long history with that song,” he states. “I actually played it as a solo guitar piece in my sixth grade talent show.”

Perhaps the most noticeable cut is an up-tempo, restructured translation of Prince’s 1984 top-selling “When Doves Cry.” Instead of capturing Prince’s poignancy, Stryker and his band head into a different direction, veering this into a rambunctious jazz rave-up. The arrangement is powered by McClenty’s quick-fire cymbals, Gold’s walking bass line, and Stryker’s fiery guitar. It’s the most heated number and illustrates Stryker’s goal to stretch cherished music into areas which take listeners away from comfortable spaces and into other possibilities while maintaining a degree of respect for the original material.

TrackList: Harvest for the World; What’s Going On; Trouble Man; Midnight Cowboy; When Doves Cry; Send One Your Love; I Can’t Get Next to You; Time of the Season; Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours; One Hundred Ways; Sunshine of Your Love.

—Doug Simpson

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