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Artist Profiles

Dave Stryker: Striking an Authentic Chord

By Published: September 2, 2004

Stryker may possess the advanced harmonic language that's prerequisite for the contexts that he places himself in, but there is an element of grit and soulful simplicity that also pervades everything he does.

With the release of Trio Mundo Rides Again , guitarist Dave Stryker's Latin jazz collaborative band with bassist Andy McKee, percussionist/vocalist Manolo Badrena and guest saxophonist Steve Slagle, now is as good a time as any to reassess Stryker's career which, while remaining all too far below the broader public radar, is well-known to musicians and critics through fourteen records for the Danish SteepleChase label over thirteen years, as well as notable sideman roles with Stanley Turrentine and Kevin Mahogany.

Stryker's broad discography presents the picture of a guitarist who possesses an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of various styles, from contemporary post bop to modal playing to Latin. But throughout his career one element has dominated, and that's the blues. With a sound that is as much informed by B.B., Albert and Freddie King as it is by Wes Montgomery and Grant Green, Stryker may possess the advanced harmonic language that's prerequisite for the contexts that he places himself in, but there is an element of grit and soulful simplicity that also pervades everything he does.

'96's Blue to the Bone , Stryker's most overtly blue record, distinguishes itself by showing his roots while, at the same time, placing them in contexts that none of his heroes could or would ever find themselves in. "Blues Revisited" may be a simplistic boogie, but in the hands of Stryker the solos manage to drip the kind of emotional depth of Howlin' Wolf and T-Bone Walker, all the while with a melodic concept that is far deeper. Stryker might wail on a single note, but he's just as likely to pull off more complex runs that show exactly how diverse his sources really are.

"Swamp Thing" finds Stryker and his group, including Bruce Barth on piano and organ, bassist Jay Anderson, drummer Billy Drummond and a horn section featuring Brian Lynch on trumpet, Conrad Herwig on trombone, tenor saxophonist Rich Perry and baritone saxophonist Bob Parsons, working a greasy groove that alternates between a New Orleans second line rhythm and a more swinging bridge. "Bayou Blues" starts with Stryker alone on slide guitar, paying tribute to the roots music of the delta, before the group enters with a relaxed Crusaders-like soul groove that gives everyone ample opportunity to move around. Stryker's combination of blistering blues lines and more harmonically broad-minded ideas, coupled with a warm sound that has just the slightest tinge of dirt, builds in intensity while still, somehow, remaining affable and easy-going.

What makes Stryker's take on the blues so appealing is his ability to blend a pure jazz concept with an equally authentic roots blues approach. This isn't jazz-informed blues or blues-informed jazz; it's a more heterogeneous integration where the sources are merged in such a way as to be both clearly visible yet equally subsumed into a new whole.

Stryker's '01 release, Changing Times , is another beast entirely. This time Stryker and long- time musical companion, saxophonist Steve Slagle, who contributes two tunes to the eight-song set of mainly Stryker originals, aim for more open-ended territory, with a strong emphasis on rhythmic content and exploration of irregular metres. The presence of percussionist Manolo Badrena, whom Stryker would, of course, go onto working with in Trio Mundo, helps make this a rhythm-happy event that still maintains a strong musicality, albeit in a more linear context. Often used to working with keyboard players, Stryker specifically opted to work without one in order to leave the harmonic choices more ambiguous. The result is a recording that examines modal post bop in a purely contemporary fashion.

Stryker's playing is, unsurprisingly, more harmonically broad than on Blue to the Bone even though the playing is less change-oriented. There are shades of Pat Martino in the way Stryker runs through rapid-fire lines, and the way he hangs onto and develops a simple phrase into something more on Slagle's fourths-driven "Invocation." Stryker's "Big Mouth" works similar territory, but this time in 5/ 4, and with an unmistakable urban edge that is also evident on the hip hop-inflected 7/4 rhythm of "Circular Scene," written as the result of a planned but ultimately unsatisfied meeting between Stryker and Slagle with saxophonist Joe Lovano in the main subway station in Tokyo. Some of Stryker's inherent blues rears its head on this track, providing a stylistic link to Blue to the Bone , even though there is nothing overtly bluesy about the tune.

The raucous and joyful "Capetown" is set up around a Highlife rhythm established by Stryker before moving into a simple change around which the sprightly and singable melody is played in unison and harmony by Stryker and Slagle. With a fairly static vamp, harmonically speaking, the soloists are left more room to work their own way through a modal approach. Stryker's accompaniment of Slagle's solo is intuitive as he pulls harmonies, seemingly out of the air, that complement Slagle perfectly. Once the solo spot becomes his, Stryker takes the simple vamp and works a variety of harmonic alterations out of it, also using a pitch shifter to create a more vertical sound.

Changing Times demonstrates another, more specifically jazz, side to Stryker's playing, and with the strong percussion work of Badrena and drummer Tim Horner, the excitement level is high indeed.

Shades Beyond continues the concept behind '00's Shades of Miles , which was to explore the same space as Miles' seminal recordings In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. Whereas Shades of Miles was a denser effort, with horn section, two keyboard players, drums and percussion, Shades Beyond reflects the smaller group context that Stryker used to play the music live and, with this album, take the concept a step further.

Tracks like Slagle's "Easy Does It" and pianist/organist David Berkman's "Petals" continue to mine the post In a Silent Way vibe, with the Terry Burns' electric bass holding down an ostinato - although he doesn't stay completely committed to it - and drummer Lenny White creating an hypnotic rhythm over which Berkman shades with dark colours. Tunes like Stryker's "Persimmon," with its simple changes, may be less harmonically static, but the group treats the material as an extension of Miles' concept, albeit in a way that sounds completely rooted in the 21st century.

While the quintet is, by definition, less dense than Miles' work from the period under examination, the vibe is clear. It's always fascinating to consider how a concept can alter the way a tune is played. "Persimmon," for example, and Slagle's more swinging "Two Twenty" could easily be straight-ahead post bop tunes, but by establishing the late-'60s Miles context the group approaches the material in a more open way that has an ambience all its own.

Berkman's Fender Rhodes work is key to establishing the overall texture, but everyone clearly understands where the music is coming from while maintaining a modernity that makes the session a forward-thinking homage rather than blatant imitation. And Stryker keeps things all his own with his warm, slightly gritty sound that owes nothing to John McLaughlin's sound or harmonic approach. In fact, by the time you get to this third Stryker disk, his own musical personality becomes totally clear. While his roots are many, he has blended these elements into something distinctly him.

Now in his late forties, Stryker has spent the past thirteen years creating a body of work that is as broad as his influences and as wide as his musical tastes will take him. Yet whether he is playing straightforward blues, modern modal post bop or the more electric explorations of Miles' space, he has a distinctive voice on his instrument that connects all the projects together, lending them an unmistakable cohesiveness. By examining his own discography, it becomes clear that Trio Mundo Rides Again is nothing more than another chapter in a long journey that Stryker is making to approach a wealth of styles and interpret them in his own unique fashion.

Visit Dave Stryker and SteepleChase Productions on the web.

Blue to the Bone
SteepleChase Productions SCCD 31400 (Recorded 03/96)

Personnel: Dave Stryker (guitar), Brian Lynch (trumpet), Conrad Herwig (trombone), Rich Perry (tenor saxophone), Bob Parsons (baritone saxophone), Bruce Barth (piano, organ), Jay Anderson (bass), Billy Drummond (drums)

Track Listing: Blues Revisited; Messenger; Blue to the Bone; Swamp Thing; Bayou Blues; Tchoupitoulas St.; Muddy Waters; One for Mogie

Changing Times
SteepleChase Productions SCCD 31510 (recorded 12/99)

Personnel: Dave Stryker (guitar), Steve Slagle (alto and soprano saxophones), Bill Moring (bass), Tim Horner (drums), Manolo Badrena (percussion)

Track Listing: Changing Times; Big Mouth; Different Worlds; Capetown; Julia; Circular Scene; Invocation; Rhythm Method

Shades Beyond
SteepleChase Productions SCCD 31559 (recorded 08/01)

Personnel: Dave Stryker (guitar), Steve Slagle (soprano and alto saxophones, alto clarinet), David Berkman (organ, fender rhodes), Terry Burns (bass), Lenny White (drums)

Track Listing: Easy Does It; Petals; Persimmon; Two Twenty; Magenta; Shades Beyond; Apparition; Maze

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