Guitarist Dave Stryker has been reliably delivering solid recordings for over two decades. With a wonderful tone, impressive chops and a knack for combining stimulating improvisation with accessible compositions, Stryker's music lures the listener with impeccable good vibes. In his latest release among some 30 as leader or co-leader, Stryker pays his respects to a former employer and, no surprise, an individual whose own style embraced the very qualities displayed on this album, Stanley Turrentine.
Tenor saxophonist Turrentine is among the legendary jazz names. He hit the jazz scene in the 1950s and, by 1960, his lusty and emotive tenor sound began to surface on numerous record dates. He participated in notable sessions with Jimmy Smith, Horace Parlan, The Three Sounds and Les McCann, led numerous enduring Blue Note Records sessions through the 1960s and continued to record and perform until his passing in 2000. One can go deep into Turrentine's music and find a lot to like. His popularity was always on the ascendancy because he was a crowd-pleaser who penned captivating compositions such as “Sugar”, “Little Sheri” and “Jubilee Shout” and put his soulful stamp upon other numbers such as Milton Nascimiento's “Salt Song” and Freddie Hubbard's “Gibraltar”that have all remained jazz favorites. Turrentine was among those with a knack for combining technical skill with natural soul, who had a unique sound and an instinct for getting his message across to listeners. And the band ...they were always killer. You didn't get to Turrentine's level of performance without a lot of talent and ability to cook on the spot. Stryker toured with the legendary tenor man for nearly a decade and was in his band on two of Mr. T's albums. The wild card for this recording session, then, was to make a “Dave Stryker record” while “messin' with Mr. T”; and it came up Aces.
The program on this album is drawn from Turrentine set lists during the time when Stryker was in his band (1986-1995). That was a great idea, adding a dimension to the flow of the music. Each track features a different tenor saxophonist along with Stryker's organ trio that includes Jared Gold playing the Hammond B-3 organ, McClenty Hunter at the drums, and Mayra Casales adding percussion. It's a setting that provides interesting contrasts in style and communication with the respective reed men.
The program opens with Turrentine's “La Place Street” featuring 80 year-old Houston Person on tenor. No stranger to working in organ combos, Person is in fine form and digs in while the band has the pots and pans simmering. Stryker comes on with his rich, soulful tone that often seems to reside someplace between Kenny Burrell and Pat Martino, yet with an individual stamp that lets you know it's Stryker all the time. Gold briefly flirts with “Red Top”in his exuberant solo as guitar and tenor build up the intensity behind him. There's a real cohesion between Stryker and organist Gold as they have performed upon each other's albums and played at clubs together for many years so they get right into the pocket on these numbers. McClenty Hunter is the bedrock, the insistent beat, and he's Mr. Taste at the drums who always seems to be doing just the right thing with an essential presence throughout the recording.
Michel LeGrand's “Pieces of Dreams” floats along with a Latin beat and features tenorist Mike Lee, while tenorman Don Braden gets the spotlight on Marvin Gaye's “Don't Mess With Mr. T” - one of Turrentine's signature numbers that gets into a deep groove. Here Stryker has his substantial blues chops on display, breaking into a swinging chorus reminiscent of Wes Montgomery. The legendary, 88 year-old saxophonist Jimmy Heath is featured upon “In A Sentimental Mood”. Stryker introduces the number with some beautiful chords before Heath blows things away with his warm tenor tone.
The program goes up tempo with John Coltrane's “Impressions”, featuring Chris Potter. Serious smoke rises from the grooves on this track with Stryker taking the first licks and Potter throwing in tenor jabs and punches before embarking upon an aggressive and thoroughly stimulating outing. Gold picks right up where Potter leaves off. He's one of those organ players who has absorbed a lot of styles that are reflected through a distinctive and exhilarating manner of expression. McClenty Hunter kills it on this one as he rides the drums and cymbals.
Bob Mintzer appears on “Gibraltar”, a number that Turrentine performed with its composer, Freddie Hubbard, and one he maintained in his performance book. Drummer McClenty Hunter strikes a crisp beat with the sticks as tenor and guitar state the theme in unison before Gold, then Mintzer and Stryker take intense solos. “Salt Song” has the marvelous Eric Alexander as featured horn man (himself not unfamiliar with organ combo work, having spent time with Charlie Earland and Irene Reid). The alternating Latin beats of this number are embellished by percussionist Mayra Casales, who appears on six tracks.
Turrentine's composition “Sugar” is a feature for Javon Jackson. Stryker's solo is clear evidence why he was hired by Jack McDuff and then Turrentine. He's a relentless groove maker, inducing soulfulness with intriguing solos. Jackson is right in the pocket on this and Gold has a short outing before they come home to Sugar. By now it is quite clear the notion to feature different tenor players was a felicitous choice as each musician has a unique sound and approach and they all work splendidly.
Steve Slagle, most often heard playing alto or soprano sax and a frequent recording companion with the guitarist (The Stryker/Slagle Band), is at the tenor on the Stryker original “Sidesteppin'” that was recorded on one of Turrentine's albums (T Time). Stryker, Slagle and Gold each take turns on this groover. Amidst the good vibes of the organ trio and Mayra Casales' percussive beat, “Let It Go” features young tenorman Tivon Pennicott, who recently placed 2nd in the Thelonious Monk competition, with an ebullient solo. It launches Stryker into sort of a tour de force, clear evidence that he is a major jazz voice through whom flows jazz history and its evolution with a beautiful sound. This last track closes out with a joyous gospel-like flourish, brilliantly summing up a celebration of Stanley Turrentine's music.
Coming on the heels of Stryker's excellent 2014 release “Eight Track”, the success of this recording session and its conception further amplifies Stryker's contemporary status. He must have been gratified to have so many fine musicians respond to his call – an indication of “Mr. T's” respect and certainly an indication of Stryker's own status within the jazz community. With a style comprehensively adept at balladry, blues roots and straight ahead swinging and sharp antenna for creative musical settings, Stryker's “Messin' With Mr. T” provides the listener with undiluted jazz that is as accessible as it is musically rewarding.
Musicians: Dave Stryker-guitar; Jared Gold-Hammond B3 organ; McClenty Hunter-drums; Mayra Casales – percussion (#2, 6-10)
Selections: LaPlace Street; Pieces of Dreams; Don't Mess With Mr. T; In A Sentimental Mood; Impressions; Gibraltar; Salt Song; Sugar; Sidesteppin'; Let It Go