With 34 albums out as a leader, plus countless recording sessions as a co-leader and sideman, it would seem that Jazz Guitarist, educator and composer Dave Stryker has practically done it all in the world of Jazz. His latest release As We Are however demonstrates a strong disinclination to rest on his past accomplishments as he brings to fruition a most exciting and stellar “bucket list” project that just may turn out to be his best yet.
As We Are features a magnificent blend of world class musicians (Brain Blade, John Patitucci, Julian Shore), heady writing and – with the help of Julian Shore’s adroit arranging skills – a string quartet that balances an overlap of musical genres while eschewing the potential for syrupy insipidness. As the man himself states: “I always wanted to do something where strings would really be integrated into the music, not a coloring or sweetening that comes in later.”*
Case in point – and the only cover on this nine song session – is Nick Drake’s “River Man” where the melancholy nature of the tune is deeply enhanced by Shore’s ambient and affecting string arrangement alongside Stryker’s tender reading of the melody. The dissonance at the start of the tune between the strings and Stryker’s warm interpretation is quite cinematic and sets up the mood for Patitucci to enter with a commanding bass line that reminds me of Pat Metheny’s live intro to “So May It Secretly Begin”. Of course Shore, Patitucci and Blade do what they do best as they provide a sympathetic and communicative underpinning of appropriate taste, vibe and texture for the featured soloists, allowing Violinist Sara Caswell to deliver a haunting solo that showcases her solid footing in both the Classical and Jazz styles.
It is this “overlap” of Classical and Jazz that starts off the CD with a stirring one minute and ten seconds chamber like “Overture” featuring all four string players firmly in step with Julian Shore’s writing and arranging flair. Not what I was expecting at all but definitely a cool way of getting one’s ears in tune for what’s to come in a most vivid fashion. Once “Lane” – the second track – kicks in though it’s pure Stryker as all his signature essentials of groove, soul, taste, style, tone and fiery chops rekindles the familiar aural aesthetic that is prominent throughout his ever growing catalog. Stryker, Shore and Blade get to shine on this one as Patitucci holds down the fort with a deep, fat tone that reminds the listener why he’s one of the most preeminent first call bassists in the world. With a rhythm section like this, one really can do no wrong 🙂
The remaining six tunes – “Dreams Are Real”, “Hope”, “Saudade”, “One Thing At A Time”, “ As We Were” and “Soul Friend” – follow suit as each player demonstrates a proclivity for stalwart support and improvisational acumen! Or as the “kids” say these days, their playing is “fire”! Honestly, with these cats who would expect any less? After all, Brian Blade is the consummate drummer who knows exactly where the dynamics lay and understands intuitively what is needed on a tune regardless if he’s “just keeping time” or being more adventurous when warranted. Check out “Lanes” and “Soul Friend” to see what I’m talking about. A definite force on this album!
Patitucci is, as mentioned, a world class bassist on both acoustic and electric – although he plays only acoustic on this album – who can take an already killer chart and make it more than a tad greater than it is. His rhythmic support is major and his soloing on tunes like “Hope”, “One Thing At A Time” and “As We Were” is a testament to how exquisite melodicism can be found on any instrument in the right hands.
Julian Shore was a name I had not heard until this album but I have no doubt that I will be hearing more from this relatively young man. His talent as a writer and arranger along with his piano playing – whether comping or soloing – is in sync with the rest of the groups talent as demonstrated on “As We Were”, “Dreams Are Real”, “Lanes” and his own “Mike Stern-ish” composition “One Thing At A Time”**. Definitely a cat to watch out for.
Dave Stryker of course is one of the finest Jazz Guitarists on the scene today and brings his many years of playing, writing and recording to the fore in a way that seems quite familiar, yet slightly intrepid than previous sessions. Maybe it’s me, but I feel that his writing on this album is more – for lack of a better word – mature, which could be as a result of adding a string section along with the specific players featured. Don’t get me wrong, Stryker still writes swinging tunes and still plays his **s off in that soulful, bluesy style we have all come to love (check out “Soul Friends”). There just seems to be a more introspective approach to the tunes presented that adds another dimension to his most recent creative output. Whatever it is, it works wonderfully so keep it going Dave 🙂
Of course another part of the group that needs to be mentioned is the string quartet featuring the aforementioned Sara Caswell on violin who not only plays the scored parts beautifully but also shines as a soloist on “River Man” and “Soul Friend” where she hits the changes with a nice bluesy feel. Well done Sara.
The remaining string quartet members, Monica K. Davis on second chair violin, Benni Von Gutzeit on viola and Marika Hughes on cello, bring their A-game to the session as well, adding lush textures, dramatic stings and call and response themes to all the tunes in a variety of ways without sounding sappy or stiff. No mean feat indeed.
So…if you’re a fan of Jazz Guitar or just in the mood for some great tunes and playing, check out Dave Stryker’s As We Are. It’s no surprise that it has been at the top of the Jazz charts since it hit!
*Taken from CD liner notes.
** At least to my ears.
Be sure to check out the Jazz Guitar Life Podcast featuring Dave Stryker as we sit down for an informative chat about this wonderful release.
Please consider spreading the word about Dave’s latest CD and Jazz Guitar Life by sharing this review amongst your social media pals and please feel free to leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you 🙂
If you would like to support all the work I do on Jazz Guitar Life, please consider buying me a coffee or visiting the Jazz Guitar Life sponsors. Thank you and your patronage is greatly appreciated regardless if you buy me a coffee or not 🙂