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The Kerry Strayer band is a working group based in Kansas City, led by saxophonist/arranger Strayer, and like any self-respecting jazz musicians from K.C., they swing. The "mentor" referred to by the title is Gary Foster, noted not only for his extensive studio experience in California, but also for bringing a refreshing hint of West Coast jazz to his playing. He was a mentor to the leader, and he is an asset to the album at hand.
The music itself is bop with some harmonic daring, best exemplified in Strayer's chart of Dave Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way" or the knotty, inventive collective improvising by Strayer and Foster on "Yardbird Suite." Strayer himself plays fleet, warm-toned soprano sax, but his main horn is his baritone, which he plays with a sturdy sound and boppish grace. Foster sounds something like Lee Konitz on alto, and a bit like Warne Marsh on tenor. However, his phrasing is more bop-oriented than either of them, and he swings harder than Konitz. Foster's clarinet voice adds a fresh dimension as well.
As well as paying tribute to Gary Foster, Mentor offers a valedictory to the late Frank Mantooth, being recorded shortly before his death. Mantooth's piano playing here is typical of the fresh, crisp music that runs throughout. Barry Springer and Earlie Braggs are impressive on all their outings, especially on the opening blues "Saturday 10AM" and the fast Warne Marsh tribute "Warne-ing." Braggs in particular is a driving, expressive trombonist who sometimes sounds like a latter-day Dickie Wells.
The unsung heroes of this CD are Strayer's arrangements, executed with élan and swinging precision by this tight working band. Strayer makes a judicious use of riffs, shout choruses, and voicings to vary the settings. He shows his own baritone off to advantage on "A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing," and the resultant warmth is all Strayer. If Mentor is any indication, Kansas City jazz is still swinging.
Track Listing: Saturday 10AM, Gaviota, A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing, Sweet Lips, Siempre Me Va Bien, Don't Ask Why, Yardbird Suite, In Your Own Sweet Way, The Peacocks, I Hadn't Anyone Till You, Warne-ing.
Personnel: Kerry Strayer, baritone sax, soprano sax, all arrangements; Gary Foster, alto sax, tenor sax, flute, clarinet; Barry Springer, trumpet, flugelhorn; Earlie Braggs, trombone; Frank Mantooth, piano, Bob Bowman, bass; Todd Strait, drums.
Tracks 2, 5: Gary Helm, percussion.