Kerry Strayer Septet featuring Gary Foster: Mentor (2004)
There's much to admire in this album. Come to think of it, in the pre-Beatles world of music, about 45 years ago, the same sort of quality project was being produced on a regular basis. Kerry Strayer leads a septet, with Gary Foster in what the liner notes call "the great Kansas City jazz tradition." Inasmuch as Mr. Strayer is a native of Kansas City, I'm assuming that we're talking about Charlie Parker, Jay McShann, Count Basie and other legends who began there. However, from an orchestral arrangement vantage point, I would place the Strayer combo about 1,500 miles west of K.C.
The title of the album is a specific reference to reedman Gary Foster, with whom Strayer has been associated for several decades, having met in the mid '70s, reunited in the '80s and a continual friendship and working relationship. I had the pleasure of reviewing the Bill Cunliffe/Gary Foster date It's About Love a few months ago and am gratified that he's getting some long overdue plaudits now.
Strayer is a fine arranger and he incorporates a stimulating mix of standards, jazz standards and originals. His baritone sax playing is a descendant of Gerry Mulligan's own voice and Strayer, like Jeru, removes any harsh edges from his presentation. In fact, while most of the solos on this disc are short, Strayer's are limited and seemingly strategically placed. With his work on Strayhorn's "A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing" both melody and solo are things of beauty, but they are quickly gone, as is the case on several of the tunes.
Foster is a one-man sax section and although most of his cool and detached alto work is emphasized, he also is featured on flute for Clare Fischer's "Gaviota" and on clarinet for the Brubeck standard "In Your Own Sweet Way." Two long term members of Strayer's group, trombonist Earlie Braggs and trumpeter Barry Springer, bring lyricism and swing to their respective moments. Frank Mantooth's piano plays an large role in cementing the rhythm section and also providing lucid solos, as do bassist Bob Bowman and drummer Todd Strait. Gary Heim, as percussionist, lifts the two compositions that he appears on, "Gaviota" and especially David Torres' "Siempre Me Va Bien," providing a vital Latin pulse.
The tunes present a evenly flowing momentum, emphasizing Strayer's ability to add colorations that alternately show the beauty of the compostions and the shadings of the personnel. "Yardbird Suite," done as a flag-waver, reflects both the Parker tradition and the benefits of Strayer's charts. "Saturday 10AM" is a perfect opener that grabs your attention right from the start.
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 and soprano sax, all arrangements; Gary Foster, alto and tenor sax, clarinet, flute; Barry Springer,trumpet,flugelhorn; Earlie Braggs,trombone; Frank Mantooth,piano; Bob Bowman,bass; Todd Strait,drums; Gary Heim,percussion