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Over the course of some dozen SteepleChase sides guitarist Dave Stryker has presented himself in various forums that have illustrated his diversity and flexibility as a musician. However, Shades of Miles has to be his most radical departure while simultaneously being possibly his greatest work to date. The premise is actually very simple, yet inspired. Instead of registering the umpteenth Miles tribute to utilize as a basis the mid-‘60s combo of Herbie, Wayne, Ron, and Tony, Stryker has opted to explore the implications of Davis’ Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way period.
Gathering a large ensemble with two saxophonists and two keyboardists, the opening “Topaz” definitely speaks in shades of In a Silent Way, with its slow bass vamp and wash of organ and Fender Rhodes. “Sienna” is a bit more funky, hinting a bit at Jack Johnson. Lynch’s muted trumpet again recalls a certain mood but never disintegrates into a copy of Davis’ solo style. The trumpeter’s wafting chant then introduces us to “Orchid,” a delicate waltz that finds Stryker at his mellow best. “Jade” has a decided Bitches Brew flair to it, with repeated horn riffs backing Stryker’s processed solo, drummer Billy Hart and percussionist Manolo Badrena serving up a complex and tasty undercurrent throughout. No surprise here, “Cobalt” is nothing but the blues, Stryker bending those strings and getting dirty. Finally, Lynch contributes the funky strut that is “Fuchsia,” complete with an electrified horn and a backing line of electric bass and bass clarinet.
Besides Lynch and Stryker, the other main soloists are Billy Drewes and Steve Slagle. The entire ensemble hits a stride throughout that is without reproach. The buzz surrounding the release of Shades of Miles was certainly justified as it is as strong a statement from Stryker as any he has made in the past. Furthermore, its uniqueness will keep it sounding fresh for many more years to come.
Personnel: Dave Stryker- guitar; Brian Lynch- trumpet; Steve Slagle- soprano & alto saxophone; Billy Drewes- tenor & soprano saxophone, bass clarinet; Marc Copland- Fender Rhodes, Larry Goldings- organ & Fender Rhodes, Terry Burns- electric bass, Billy Hart- drums, Manolo Badrena- percussion