While jazz's miniscule 3% of overall CD sales in North America argues that it's not only marginalized, but in serious trouble, the genre continues to see an upsurge in the number of gifted players who operate with loyal followings that may not make them wealthy, but certainly allow them to continue evolving. For every high-profile artist like Pat Metheny, there's a multitude of guitarists operating at or just below the radar. They may not be as eminently innovative, but in their own way they are not only keeping the tradition alive, but moving it forward in small increments.
Dave Stryker is one such guitarist. Since moving to New York in the early '80s from Omaha, Nebraska, Stryker has built up a significant body of work, including nearly twenty releases as a leader and sideman work with artists like organist Jack McDuff, singer Kevin Mahogany, and saxophonist Stanley Turrentine. Coming from a rich blues background, his own projects have been a reflection of that lineage, but they have also stretched out to include the Miles Davis-informed Shades Project with drummer Lenny White and the cross-cultural Trio Mundo. His latest release, Big City, continues to showcase his soulful lyricism, warm and inviting tone, and an advanced linear conception that finds him capable of confidently navigating the most challenging of changes.
Stryker's choice to enlist pianist Dave Kikoski, bassist Ed Howard, and drummer Victor Lewis was an inspired one. The three have been working together as part of trumpeter Eddie Henderson's group for the past couple of years, and they come with a built-in chemistry and complexion that allows Stryker to run the gamut, from the burning "Cherokee -based original composition "Biddy Fleet to a clever modal reinterpretation of the classic "It Was a Very Good Year and the relaxed Stryker-penned blues "All Night Long. Recorded live to two-track on one day in November of 2004, Big City comes as close to being there as possible, with an in-the-moment vibe and complete engagement from start to finish.
Stryker's thick tone has some precedence in Pat Martino's darker sound, but while he has the chops to be able to pull off some lightening-quick exchanges, as he does on "Biddy Fleet, he's also a more relaxed, behind-the-beat player than Martino, keeping bright tunes like "Feelin' Good in the pocket. His intro to the Cole Porter ballad "Every Time We Say Goodbye demonstrates his capacity for rich chordal interpretation.
It's often difficult to know exactly what will make an album resonate in ways that give it a broader reach, but if sheer honesty, unassuming commitment, and evocatively intelligent playing are anything to go by, Big City should place Stryker in a position of greater prominence.
Visit Dave Stryker on the web.
Personnel: Dave Stryker (guitar); David Kikoski (piano); Ed Howard (bass); Victor Lewis (drums)