Crystal Run and Luna Stage
Middletown, NY and West Orange, NJ
November 2, 2014
It was a tale of two cities. Or two bands, to be more specific. Or two variations on a theme, to come that much closer to describing what went down on this first Sunday in November in the towns of Middletown, New York, and West Orange, New Jersey.
It was a tale of one band following the other, the first being the unrecorded yet longstanding group known as the Softwinds. Nominally a quartet with Ron Crosta on vibes, pianist Paul Duffy, bassist Lou Pappas and Tom Cabrera on drums (saxophonist Mike Anotnelli not present), this Hudson Valley gig at Middletown's Holiday Inn Crystal Run was a perfect complement to a diner's easygoing, jazz-loving late-afternoon palette. Accomplished veteran musicians all, their set was strewn with covers of mid-century standards like Cole Porter's "Love For Sale," Ellington's "I'm Beginning to See The Light" along with more contemporary fare like Oliver Nelson
's "Stolen Moments" and Freddie Hubbard
's "Little Sunflower." Cabrera's wife, singer Julie Lyons added to the luster on selected tunes. Songs of love, the music, despite a lack of surprises, was breezy, swinging. All about jazz.
But the reason you're reading this review isn't because of them, as listenable as the Softwinds were.
This tale of two, so to speak, emerged courtesy of the evening's fare bubbling up down the road apiece in an early evening set. It was the Dave Stryker
Trio at the Luna Stage
in West Orange. "Eight Track: A Celebration of Classic Pop Tunes From the 70's Reimagined" was a mouth-and mind-full billing for another reinvention of the classic combo of guitar, organ and drums. "Eight Track" was part of an annual four-concert Music in the Moonlight Jazz Series at the Luna Stage, a lively neighborhood cultural center that usually books theater productions. Having relocated to West Orange from Montclair in 2011, jazz at the Luna has become a musical mainstay, if only four times a year. And, based on this evening's turnout in the cozy, 99- seat room, people really dig having their full.
Stryker's CD Eight Track
(Strikezone Records) served as the road map for the concert. A tongue-on-cheek reference to the popular yet ill-fated 1970s technology that preceded digital recording, Eight Track
has become a critically acclaimed CD both with the press and jazz radio (2014's most played CD on WBGO), no doubt lending to guitarist Stryker's cred as a top vote-getter in DownBeat's recent Readers Poll.
The show at the Luna was all about the '70s, with some '60s material thrown in for good measure. Apart from some satisfyingly greasy blues in a couple of spots, it was all Eight Track
. And the contrast with "Love For Sale" couldn't have been more dramatic, to use a stage term. Gone were the gestures of World War II-era classics, songs that jazz musicians sing and perform night after night, year in year out. In its stead were songs that took a Wes Montgomery
approach (minus the orchestration), one developed late in that late-guitarist's career with albums covering then-contemporary material like "California Dreaming" (think the Mamas and the Papas) and "A Day In The Life" (the Beatles). Pop went the jazz, so to speak. Granted (and unlike Montgomery or then- colleague/guitarist George Benson
during the same period), Stryker's trio couldn't help but be looking back, even as it revved up a similar songbook, fast- forwarding selected tunes into the 21st century. And, in case you were wondering, retro it wasn't.
A guitarist who plays an engaging (electric) hollow-body Gibson ES with right thumb and freewheeling fingers to match, Stryker dazzled not so much with his virtuosity as with his feel and textured approach to the instrument. And, as if to emphasize the group-over-star concept, Stryker settled in off to the right of the stage as listeners also took in the seamless simpatico offered up courtesy of organist Pat Bianchi
(center stage) and drummer McClenty Hunter