Kerry Strayer Septet: Mentor (2004)
This one swings right out of the gate on a cool groove of four horn harmony that gives way to reedman Gary Foster's incisive, clean-toned alto sax solo on "Saturday 10 a.m." A septet effort under the leadership of Kansas City-based baritone sax man Kerry Strayer, Mentor showcases the considerable talents of Foster on alto and tenor saxophones, flute and clarinet.
Kansas City brings Count Basie to mind, of course, but Strayer's Mentor arrangements sound closer to the West Coast cool school for the most part, on the charts he's written for what he refers to as an "orchestrated combo," full of lilting harmonies and sparkling solos all around, with Foster taking a good share of the spotlight.
When you say "baritone saxophone," the name that comes to mind first for most jazz fans is Gerry Mulligan. In fact, it was a Mulligan's sound that lured Kerry Strayer into jazz. If there's an influence there though, it's the arranging skills and not the horn sound. Strayer's harn tone is smooth, without the grunts and grumbles one usually hears from the baritone.
Gary Foster, the "mentor" here, plays magnificently throughout. His talents on a the four different reeds makes for an always interesting and ever-shifting ensemble sound; and I'm ashamed to say that I'd never given his work a serious listen until quite recently, when I encountered him on pianist Bill Cunliffe and saxophonist Gary Foster's It's About Love (Torii Records, '04).
The Mentor arrangements and production shine with a high gloss. Billy Strayhorn's "A Flower is a Lovesome Thing" is an achingly beautiful eight minutes, featuring some of Strayer's most supple and deeply delicate lines. In fact, if this set has a weakness, it's that the arranger didn't put in enough baritone sax solo slots for himself.
There isn't a weak moment on the disc. Strayer's pen gives Charlie Parker's "Yardbird Suite" a cool sass, and one of jazz's most recognizably pretty melodies, Dave Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way" features the smooth sweetness of Gary Foster's clarinet. And essential to the success of the sound is pianist Frank Mantooth, a fine and subtle accompanist behind the shifting horn soloists who gets to step out and shine occasionally with his own spots.
Visit Kerry Strayer on the web at www.kerrystrayer.com
Track Listing: Saturday 10 a.m., 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, Ware-ing
Personnel: Kerry Strayer--baritone and soprano saxophones and all arrangement; Gary Foster--alto and tenor saxes , flute, clarinet; Barry Springer--trumpet, flugelhorn; Earlie Braggs--trombone; Frank Mantooth--piano; Bob Bowman--bass; Todd Strait--drums; Gary Helm--percussion, tracks 2 & 4