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Dave Stryker: As We Are

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Dave Stryker: As We Are
One of the few good things about coming late to a party is that you don't have to start the conversation. The guests are there, drinks have been served, and one way or another, a tone—or several—has been set. All you have to do is blend in. Sometimes it is easy. Other times it is not.

As We Are is already established near the top of the jazz charts. It has been reviewed, and reviewed very well on All About Jazz by Kyle Simpler. All the right people have said all the right things, and, frankly, there is no reason to dissent from the consensus. This is a gorgeous recording, and fans of Dave Stryker, and they are legion, have been virtually unanimous in praising it. No disagreement. Julian Shore, John Patitucci and Brian Blade have the reputations they have for a reason, and none of them disappoints here. Stryker's compositions and Shore's arrangements are everything other reviewers have said: melodious, dreamy, wistful in place, something like a soundtrack to a thoughtful indie film. Again, what is there not to like?

Strings in a jazz recording are, of course, nothing new. In some ways, their use has always been a way of establishing credibility as a "serious" musician. After all, strings are the backbone of the classical repertoire, and, for better or worse, that music was once baptized as "legitimate." No need to labor over the origins of the term "jazz." Whatever it was, legitimacy was not part of its connotation. But Benny Goodman trotted out Mozart and studied with Reginald Kell. Kell, the outstanding classical clarinetist of his era, never, to the best of one's knowledge, trotted out "Clarinet a la King" to establish his jazz chops. The jazz clarinetist Eric Seddon has written a thoughtful exposition on why Goodman was a student of Kell, and not vice versa, and what the differences between jazz and classical clarinet are or might well be. These you leave to serious players, and not to mere observers. But there is a difference, and not all classical players think highly of Goodman's Mozart.

To some ears, strings in jazz always sound like an add-on, never an integral part of the music. They are sort of a musical Good Housekeeping stamp of approval, a sign that "this is really serious music." Whether that was good or not, much less fair, or even just the parochialism of a given set of listeners or critics is worth thinking about. No doubt, some players and listeners have.

There is a string quartet led by Sara Caswell that performs on the recording. Significantly, Caswell, who is very much as an established artist on jazz violin as the rest of this all star-cast, plays beautifully, as does the second violin, viola, and cello. None of that is the issue.

Stryker says, of this recording, "I always wanted to do something where strings would really be integrated into the music, not a coloring or sweetening that comes in later." Honestly, and this is purely subjective, it is not apparent that simply giving Caswell solo space or, indeed, opening with a string "Overture" manages to accomplish what was Stryker and arranger Shore's laudable goal. Yes, the string quartet is there, but the album cover itself says "with string quartet." The string players are indeed featured prominently in an insert, but, alas, not on the cover. There is only so much room, right? Well, yes, there is only so much room on a cover, in an arrangement, or in a hall. Everyone has to make choices. C'est la vie.

Whether Stryker and Shore actually achieve that integration, or whether the strings are, somehow, still just there in this recording is for the listener to decide. Which is as it should be.

Track Listing

Overture; Lanes; River Man; Hope; Saudade; One Thing At A Time; As We Were; Dreams Are Real; Soul Friend.

Personnel

Dave Stryker: guitar; John Patitucci: bass, acoustic; Julian Shore: piano; Brian Blade: drums; Sara Caswell: violin; Monica K. Davis: violin; Benni von Gutzeit: viola; Marika Hughes: cello.

Album information

Title: As We Are | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Strikezone Records

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