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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