Archive for jazz guitar

Album Review: Strykin’ Ahead – Dave Stryker

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2017, CD Reviews with tags , , , , , , on October 11, 2017 by curtjazz

DAVE STRYKER – Strykin’ Ahead (Strikezone Records)

Dave-Stryker-Strykin-Ahead-CoverIn my book, veteran guitar master Dave Stryker has been on a hot streak of late. The former Jack McDuff and Stanley Turrentine sideman has released a new project in each of the last four years on his own Strikezone label and each has been better than its predecessor. His latest, Strykin’ Ahead, continues that trend.

While Stryker has always been a strong performer in any setting, I’ve personally grown quite fond of the guitar/organ/vibes/drums configuration that he has used on his two “Eight Track” albums as well as on this one. I first fell in love with that sound when I first heard Grant Green’s Street of Dreams, and Big John Patton’s Let ‘Em Roll, some three decades ago. For me, there’s something about this type of quartet sound that’s relaxing, yet energizing.

Set free from the conceptual moorings of the Eight Track and Turrentine tribute dates, Mr. Stryker and his regular cohorts, Jared Gold on organ, McClenty Hunter on drums and vibraphonist Steve Nelson, deliver an eclectic and consistently interesting mix of jazz favorites and Stryker originals.  It may sound like a cliché, but there was truly not a bad track on the disc. They hit the ground running with “Shadowboxing”, a hard-charging, Stryker-penned minor blues, and they don’t look back. Stryker’s strong compositional skills are a revelation to me, since I’ve only really become familiar with his work as a leader, over the last five years. “New You”, is a bright and infectious tune, based on the changes of “There Will Never Be Another You”, highlighted by hard swinging solos by Stryker, Nelson and Gold. “Blues Down Deep”, is exactly what the title implies – 100% blues grease, with Stryker holding a séance with the spirits of a pair of Kings (B.B. and Albert), while Gold testifies on the B3. It was the blues, but it made me feel good.

The high points of the cover tunes were a bouncy “Joy Spring”, where I not only appreciated Stryker’s guitar but also Gold’s fine work on the pedals, as he kept a compelling bass line. Nelson is on point on this number as well as throughout the rest of the disc. He is truly a pro’s pro and he is a welcome addition to Stryker’s group. Billy Strayhorn’s “Passion Flower”, gets a nice reworking as a light bossa, with Nelson’s vibes as the star. “Who Can I Turn To”, was a most pleasant surprise. I’ve never cared much for the tune, perhaps owing to the many overwrought vocal versions that I’ve endured over the years. This group turns it into a lovely jazz waltz, with very tasty solos from all involved, especially the leader. Perhaps I’ll give the song another chance.

Strykin’ Ahead is Dave Stryker’s 28th album as a leader and my personal favorite, so far. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, it’s a good place to start. It’s one of the best jazz albums of 2017.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars – One of the best Jazz albums of 2017

“Under The Radar” Jazz Guitarists – Part I

Posted in Under The Radar with tags , , , , , , on July 30, 2013 by curtjazz

Ed CherryIt’s been a few weeks since our last “Under The Radar” post, for various reasons, none of which really matter to most people. So let’s fire it up again with a quartet of great jazz guitarists that deserve more recognition than they get. There will be a Part 2 as there are quite a few guitarists that I want to pull your coat about. As always, they are in alphabetical order:

Ron Affif

Born in Pittsburgh, Mr. Affif was a student of the great Joe Pass and the son of a well-respected middleweight boxer, who passed along to his son his love of jazz. Mr. Affif, who now calls Brooklyn home, released five strong albums for Pablo Records during the ’90’s. My personal favorites are Ringside and 52nd Street. Most times he works in the trio (guitar, bass, drums) format, which leaves ample room for his creativity.  He still presides over Monday nights at the Zinc Bar in Greenwich Village; as good a reason as any to check it out.

Sheryl Bailey

Another Pittsburgh native (there must be something in the water there that produces great jazz guitarists), Ms. Bailey constantly finds herself being compared to Emily Remler, the patron saint of female jazz guitarists. To take nothing away from the late Ms. Remler, of whom I’m also a fan (as is Ms. Bailey), I think that Ms. Bailey is better. For my money Sheryl has a slightly better sense of swing and a warmer tone but why quibble, just love them both. Her last two albums A New Promise and For All Those Living have been on Curt’s Cafe’s Best Jazz Albums lists in their respective release years.  According to her website, Ms. Bailey has a new trio album coming out soon. Be on the lookout!

Roni Ben-Hur

Born in Israel and now based in New Jersey, Roni Ben-Hur fell in love with the recordings of Wes Montgomery, Grant Green Kenny Burrell and Jim Hall at a young age. He was also a fan of the great classical guitarist Andres Segovia. After moving to New York in the mid ’80’s, Mr. Ben-Hur was exposed to the music of Baden Powell, the great Brazilian guitarist. Having all of those influences turned Ben-Hur into a musician with a sound that is strikingly lyrical, yet he swings as hard as anyone on the scene today. In New York Ben-Hur came under the tutelage of the great bop pianist Barry Harris, learning many priceless musical lessons during his time in Harris’ band. He is passing on what he has learned through jazz camps that Ben-Hur and his wife, vocalist Amy London, conduct around the world. Though his recorded work has been uniformly excellent, I recommend 2007’s Keepin’ It Open and 2012’s Our Thing, with Duduka Da Fonseca and Santi Debriano as the best of the best.

Ed Cherry

Musicians dig Ed Cherry. It’s time for the public to join in on the praise. This New Haven native first garnered attention during the decade-plus that he spent with Dizzy Gillespie, performing in the legend’s small group and big bands. Mr. Cherry then struck out on his own releasing his first recoding as leader, First Take in 1993. Over the last twenty years, Cherry has lent his blues drenched sound to albums by Big John Patton, Henry Threadgill, Paquito D’Rivera, Hamiet Bluiett and many others. Whatever he plays, Cherry’s lines are clean and soulful, with a sound that makes you give up that audible “Yeah!”.  HIs third date as a leader, 2001’s The Spirits Speak, on Justin Time and his most recent, 2012’s It’s All Good on Posi-Tone are still in print and available. Get them while you can.

As always, we encourage you to support the music of any of the artists that you like in this post by buying their CDs or legal digital downloads.  Or even better if they come to your area, go out and see them live and then buy their music.

More to come soon. Until then, the jazz continues…

Unsung Women of Jazz #8 – Mary Osborne

Posted in Unsung Women of Jazz with tags , , , , on October 15, 2011 by curtjazz

Mary Osborne (1921 – 1992)

“The only electric guitar I knew of was the Hawaiian guitar, I’d listen to all the jazz guitarists of the time, but they all played acoustic. But here was Charlie Christian playing Django Reinhardt’s ‘St. Louis Blues’ note for note but with an electric guitar. It was the most startling thing I’d ever heard.” – Mary Osborne

When I began this series, I only chose nine women. Because I knew that somewhere along the way, there would be a talented woman whom I had overlooked, that needed to be on this list. Well, surprise! I found not one, but two. The first, profiled here, is guitarist Mary Osborne. The second is…well, you’ll find out in the next post.

Born into a musical family in Minot, ND; Mary’s direction was set from an early age. “We had a very large family and everybody could play an instrument, but nobody intended to be a musician.” Mary said in a 1991 New York Times interview.  “They tell me that one time they found me sitting at the piano picking out tunes. I was 2 or 3 or something. My dad says ‘I think I finally got myself a musician.’ From then on he just doted on me, he brought me every string instrument.” Ms. Osborne tried the mandolin and the banjo, before settling on the guitar at age 9.  As a teenager, she played her acoustic guitar on local radio broadcasts, for which she was paid in Hershey Bars.

At 17, her life was changed when pianist Al Trent came to Bismark, ND, on a one-nite stand. Trent’s electric guitarist was a gifted young man named Charlie Christian.  The next day, Mary bought herself an electric guitar and became a devoted follower of Christian’s. And Christian, impressed by their mutual love of Django Reinhardt, took the time to mentor Mary.

In the late ’30’s Ms. Osborne moved to Pittsburgh and then to New York. Though she encountered barriers due to her sex, her talents were too good to be completely ignored.  Eventually, Mary landed a gig with legendary violinist Joe Venuti, (who considered her a replacement for his late partner Eddie Lang) which then led to work and recordings with Coleman Hawkins, Mary Lou Williams, Ben Webster, Dizzy Gillespie and much to her chagrin, many bookings as part of gimmicky all-girl groups.  Her love though, was joining in the late night jams at the famed clubs along 52nd Street.  She was quite a sight, this pretty, petite white girl, up on the stand and more than holding her own with some of the best jazzmen of all time.

Around that same time, Mary met her husband, trumpeter Ralph Scaffidi.  They remained in New York and Mary kept working, leading her own trio, which played many NYC hotels and appearing often on radio and in this upstart new medium, television.  She also gave birth to three children, between 1955 and 1959.  While pregnant with her third child, she recorded the first of her two albums, A Girl and Her Guitar.  Despite the corny title, this was no novelty record. Mary swung hard, cool and fast, leading a group that included pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Tommy Potter and drummer “Papa” Jo Jones.

[From Cats vs. Chicks, Mary trades licks with the great Tal Farlow on “Anything You Can Do…”]

During the ’60’s, Mary Osborne continued to work on the NY scene. She even refined her skills by taking classical guitar lessons. In 1968, Mary and Ralph decided to move to Bakersfield, CA, where they started a successful company that made guitars and amplifiers. She continued to perform locally and she taught at Cal State University in Bakersfield.  She would surface occasionally for recordings and higher profile gigs. In 1977 she appeared on Marian McPartland’s album Now’s The Time, which featured an all female group that included another of our Unsung Women, Vi Redd.  in 1981, Stash Records released  Now and Then, which was split between freshly recorded trio tracks and some cuts from A Girl and Her Guitar.  The ’81 tracks proved that Mary had not lost a step over the years; in fact her sound had matured into something that was less Charlie Christian and more uniquely hers.

In 1990, she joined Lionel Hampton for a set during the Playboy Jazz Festival. By all accounts, the 69-year-old Osborne stole the show (I tried desperately to find some video or audio footage, but no luck).  This led to her coming back to New York for a week at the Village Vanguard in 1991. Sadly, it would be her last New York gig. Mary Osborne died of cancer in 1992.

When I conceived this series, this spot in the order was to be filled by Emily Remler. Though we will still touch on Ms. Remler at a later date, I find it ironic that we are instead speaking of a woman who made Emily possible. Mary Osborne was a true pioneer.

Recommended Recordings:

Melvin Sparks – In Memoriam

Posted in In Memoriam with tags , , , on March 16, 2011 by curtjazz

Melvin Sparks (1946-2011)

I heard earlier today that Melvin Sparks had passed away from heart failure, just days before his 65th birthday. 

Sparks was not well-known, even in jazz circles, so I figured that I would tell y’all a little bit about him.

Sparks was a good guitarist who was most active during the soul-jazz heyday of the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s.  He was on many of the Prestige Records albums of that time and even on few Blue Note dates.  If you dug Lou Donaldson’s Hot Dog, Lonnie Smith’s Think!, Charles Earland’s Black Talk! or Rusty Bryant’s Soul Liberation, then you’ve probably heard Sparks’ bluesy Grant Green influenced playing. 

He dropped a few projects under his own name during the early ‘70’s as well; all very much within the groovy soul-jazz vein of the era. The best of these were his debut Sparks! with Houston Person and Spark Plug, which featured a young Grover Washington, Jr. on tenor. 

Here’s “The Stinker” from Sparks!

In the so-called “Acid Jazz” era of the ‘90’s, Sparks underwent a bit of a career renaissance.  Sparks! and Spark Plug were compiled on one CD as a part of Prestige’s Legends of Acid Jazz series, which got him some new attention.

Sparks then recorded his first sides as a leader in almost two decades (most for Savant Records) and as the work came again for the other old soul-jazz cats, they gave Sparks a call.  During the ‘90’s and early 2000’s he backed Donaldson and Earland again; as well as Jimmy McGriff, Hank Crawford and relative newcomer Joey DeFrancesco.

He was still going strong until recently, bringing joy to multiple generations with his still nimble playing, as you can see in the clip below.  He was a part of an era of jazz that many people unfortunately, try to forget. But Melvin Sparks should be remembered.

Rest in Peace.