Dave Stryker: “Big City” – Jazz Guitar Life CD Review

Jazz guitarist Dave Stryker never ceases to amaze me. Whether he’s fronting his own Blue to the Bone Band, lending stalwart support behind saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, and vocalist Kevin Mahoganey, or co-leading The Stryker-Slagle Band with saxophonist Steve Slagle, Stryker delivers 110 percent all the time, and Big City, the latest Dave Stryker CD on Mel Bay Records is no exception. It is an album filled to the brim with swinging, soulful, bluesy, and straight ahead jazz guitar that had me boppin’ in my seat from the title track “Big City”, an original composition, to the last, “Biddy Fleet”, also an original tune.

Stryker is an extremely melodic player with a warm, yet at times, biting tone that makes you sit up and take notice. His playing style on “Big City” reminds me of those wonderful old CTI recordings of George Benson and Kenny Burrell where there was a lot of expressive playing alongside taste, feel, and mucho chops.

Take the Cole Porter balled “Every Time We Say Goodbye”. Stryker plays his heart out as he opens the tune with a thoughtful chord-melody solo that speaks volumes of his harmonic facility and sense of time. The band then leads into another intro that just drips of soul with Stryker laying down some serious feel that would make Benson grin from ear-to-ear, before getting into the heart of the tune with Stryker stating the melody warmly. His playing through the changes is just marvelous as his melodic sense takes us on a journey of improvisational sophistication that stays true to the beauty of the melody before he revisits the intro groove with a treatise on soulful blues lines. Just gorgeous.

Speaking of the blues, it wouldn’t be a Dave Stryker session without a good heaping of bluesy jazz fills which are a-plenty on this CD particularly on the Stryker tune “All Night long”. Here Stryker gets to slip and slide through the standard blues form interweaving blues ideas with modern harmonic devices. You’re gonna want to get out the transcription paper for this one guys and gals.

No doubt, Dave Stryker is a guitarist’s guitarist and the rest of the album lays claim to this title. Just check out the fleet fingered improv on the “Cherokee” influenced original “Biddy Fleet*”. Stryker rips through the changes with aplomb and desirous ease as veteran drummer Victor Lewis goads him on in a guitar-drum extravaganza that is just killer. Pianist David Kikoski, who is just absolutely outstanding on this session, follows through with a dazzling display of chops and bop dexterity while bassist Ed Howard keeps the bottom flowing and steady. Stryker and Lewis then get into a trading fours break that culminates in Lewis showcasing his formidable skill and maturity as one of this century’s leading drummers.

In fact, Lewis is all over this album as he propels and pushes the energy throughout the tunes in a sometimes subtle other times in your face manner. A wonderful example of his delicate dominance is on the much reworked Sinatra pop standard “It Was a Very Good Year” dedicated to the late and great Bob Berg. The whole band is electrifying as each member burns through the tune reminding me at times of Scofields’ early Shinola period. Energy and excitement abound throughout this tune as each player gets to shine through the changes with Stryker and Kikoski trading some serious lines before Lewis takes to the fore with a powerful solo spot. This is ensemble playing at its best pure and simple. Bob Berg would indeed be proud.

Those who are familiar with Dave Stryker’s inspiring guitar and compositional talents will not be disappointed in the least with this latest outing. For those who are not familiar with Stryker, “Big City” would be a great CD to begin exploring the marvelous career of a very serious player. Plus, it is an enhanced CD that includes a discography, artist biography, photo gallery and a couple of interviews courtesy of Mel Bay Records. What more could you ask for?

*Jazz guitarist William “Biddy” Fleet played alongside Bop sax legend Charlie Parker. For more info check out http://www.chasinthebird.com/nest/james1_e.html.

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