No, you needn't scour the woods searching for an eight-track tape player (good luck with that). Guitarist Dave Stryker's Eight Track Christmas refers not to outmoded recording / playback equipment but to his Eight Track Band (actually a quartet) and its album of songs for the 2019 holiday season. As those who've heard the group perform on other occasions will readily agree, Stryker's seasonal sentiments are directed toward those who groove on Christmas fare laden with generous helpings of funk and soul to enliven its jazz ingredients.
That is never more apparent than on "Soulful Frosty" (the terrestrial snowman), one of the album's half-dozen more recent Christmas themes; the other four consist of traditional hymns and carols given modern makeovers by Stryker and his companions (vibraphonist Stefon Harris, organist Jared Gold, drummer McClenty Hunter) with a second vibraphonist, Steve Nelson, making it a quintet on the undulating finale, "O Tannenbaum." For fans of more straightforward licks, the group dashes headlong through the snow on Leroy Anderson's picturesque "Sleigh Ride" with fiery solos by all hands before adopting a more sorrowful stance on the aptly named "Blue Christmas."
Besides "Tannenbaum," the historic themes include "What Child Is This," "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" and "We Three Kings," while "Frosty," "Sleigh Ride" and "Blue Christmas" usher in a sextet of up-to-date offerings that include John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas" and Vince Guaraldi's "Christmas Time Is Here" (a staple of the annual Charlie Brown / Peanuts TV offerings). The Eight Track Band gets down to business without delay on "This Christmas," establishing a shuffling beat that leads to earnest solos by Harris, Gold and the leader. "What Child Is This" offers more of the same, as does "God Rest Ye Merry" before the mind-set changes to soulful on "Happy Xmas." Excepting "Christmas Time Is Here," funk is the order of the day henceforth, from "Soulful Frosty" to "Tannenbaum."
Among the many seasonal albums that are sure to arrive this year, Stryker and his band have created a cozy niche for themselves by giving the music a warm and soulful canopy. As a bonus, it is splendid music that transcends its holiday motif and can be appreciated and enjoyed the whole year round.
This Christmas; What Child Is This?; God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen; Happy Xmas (War Is Over); Soulful Frosty; Christmas Time Is Here; Sleigh Ride; Blue Christmas; We Three Kings; O Tannenbaum.
Dave Stryker: guitar; Stefon Harris: vibraphone; Jared Gold: organ; McClenty Hunter: drums, percussion; Steve Nelson: vibraphone (10).