Dave Stryker can't seem to stop releasing CD's and I can't seem to stop chatting them up. Already this space has been taken up by reviews of a ten-year-old fusion record and a smokin' hard-bop 2007 release of a sax-guitar quartet co-led with Steve Slagle. Stryker runs the whole gamut of jazz styles and band formats from rockin' blues-jazz to greasy organ trios with amazingly consistent results.
Strike Up The Band, which was released last February 5, is Stryker's fifteenth for SteepleChase records. SteepleChase is a longtime Danish imprint that for decades has been one of the better labels for discerning jazz connoisseurs. So, I knew before even cracking open the jewel case the combination of Stryker and SteepleChase meant that music was going to be no-nonsense straight ahead bop played with style and precision.
Whereas Stryker/Slagle is a quartet fronted by guitar and sax, the quartet for this outing replaces Slagle's horn with Xavier Davis' piano (Freddie Hubbard, Stefon Harris). Andy McKee (Michel Petrucciani, Mingus Big Band) mans the acoustic bass, while Stryker-Slagle and longtime veteran drummer Billy Hart stays put.
Strike Up The Band, which was actually recorded back in 2003, is a mixture of three well-known classic tunes and five originals contributed by three of the four band members.
The main yardstick for jazz artists when tackling covers is how much life they can breathe into overly familiar tunes, demonstrating continued vitality in these compositions and ideally, making them their own songs. Stryker is not only up to the task, but as Strike Up The Band reveals, it's becoming a real strength for him.
George Gershwin's "Strike Up The Band" kicks off proceedings in an energetic fashion. Stryker plays some single line notes that recalls Emily Remler and early John Scofield while the rhythm section, taking Billy Hart's lead, stretches out.
Sonny Rollins' evergreen standard "Airegin" is augmented by a darker passage that presages the more uplifting bop melody of Rollins'. Cole Porter's "I Love You" is presented with a gently loping rhythm with Davis supplying a tasteful solo.
Of the originals presented on this set, McKee's "Peace Song" is the standout. It's beautiful soulful melody provides a perfect platform for Stryker's softly plucked notes. Stryker himself contributes "Blues Strut" which shows off his blues chops from his earlier days and "Saints And Sinner" is a showcase for Hart. On hard bop "What Is This?", an apparent rewrite of "What Is This Thing Called Love?," Stryker lays down some smooth bop lines on his lengthy solo turn, where his notes percolates like a Starbucks at 8am.
All told, Strike Up The Band is not pushing out the boundaries of jazz, but it does an excellent job at keeping the faith. It's energetic, creative and expertly played all the way through.
Dave Stryker was voted 2007's "A Rising Star" in Downbeat Magazine's Critic's Poll. With Strike Up The Band being another one of his many solid efforts, there's little doubt why he's been a favorite among critics. There's only the question of when—not if—the popular acclaim will finally catch up.