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Dave Stryker: Messin’ with Mister T

Walter Atkins By

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Veteran jazz guitarist Dave Stryker's history includes playing and recording with the inimitable Stanley Turrentine from 1986 to 1995.His Messin' With Mister T (Strikezone Records), showcasing Turrentine classics, is a timely testimonial to the accomplished tenor's long career and extensive legacy. The legacy begins in the 50's for Turrentine while performing with adept musicians like Lowell Fulson, Tadd Dameron, Max Roach and many others.

Turrentine continues working throughout the 60's with numerous artists including Horace Silver and soul/jazz organist and educator Shirley Scott, whom he marries. He also enjoys a fruitful working relationship with the Hammond B-3 innovator, and NEA Jazz Masters Award recipient Jimmy Smith.

The 70's prove to be a fertile period for jazz and music of all genres to grow and flourish. After 3-time Grammy winner Marvin Gaye's seminal album What's Going On is released in 1972 on Motown Records' subsidiary, Tamla, he is in huge demand. Following the worldwide success of his pivotal concept album, Gaye is now ready for a new project. For his next studio album, the inventive singer/composer creates his first and only motion picture sound track Trouble Man for the film of the same name. The entire movie score is conceived, composed, written, and produced by the soulful superstar. "Don't Mess With Mister T." along with the atmospheric title, are among the few vocal tracks written and performed by the famous falsetto for the action film.

Noted stage, TV, and screen actor Robert Hooks is cast as the crime thriller's hero for hire, Mister T. (Not to be mistaken for the A-Team's popular muscled and mohawked actor/pitch man who comes years later). Hooks is also a cofounder, with Douglas Turner Ward, of the Negro Ensemble Company (NEC) in 1967. The picture is not a major hit upon its initially release. However over time, it does develop a small following and a new appreciation.

Decade's later, music from Gaye's Motown masterpiece is subsequently used and referenced in other movies. For the 2005 Paramount Pictures release Four Brothers with Mark Wahlberg, the "Trouble Man" theme plays during a climatic scene late in the movie. In 2014's Marvel Studios blockbuster Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Falcon mentions Gaye's Trouble Man soundtrack during a conversation with the good captain.

The highlight of the film undoubtedly is Gaye's soulful bluesy original score with its strong jazz saxophone tones and colors. It features sophisticated blues themes and smooth soul delivered by members of Motown's robust in-house session band, the Funk Brothers. Among the many talented musicians is Trevor Lawrence on alto, tenor and baritone saxophones. Other saxophonists on the date are Eli Fountain and Marty Montgomery. Gene Page arranges the strings.

Gaye's Trouble Man score is well received and garners positive reviews. It enters Billboard's top 20 and peaks at number 12. It was, and still is, one of the coolest motion picture soundtracks ever recorded.

Gaye's 1972 movie score would prove a perfect choice for tenor titan Stanley Turrentine. It would provide a point of departure for him to further explore and expand his distinctive, muscular style. In 1973, Turrentine recorded his singular version of "Don't Mess with Mister T." and also entitled the album Don't Mess with Mister T.. The sturdy saxophonist continued with the "T" theme throughout the album by composing the tracks "Two For Tea" and "Too Blue." Bruce Haus wrote "I Could Never Repay Your Love."

The versatile Turrentine used his rich and agile saxophone to create his ten minute opus for "Don't Mess." He also kicked off the new album with this potent title track. Turrentine's choice of the cool hip Gaye song is inspired and a natural progression of his authentic soul, jazz, and blues proficiencies. It was recorded on Creed Taylor's CTI label and arranged by the industrious Bob James at the bustling Rudy Van Gelder Studio in Inglewood Cliffs, New Jersey. The recording date includes jazz stalwarts: Randy Brecker trumpet; Joe Farrell tenor sax; Pepper Adams baritone sax; Eric Gale guitar; Richard Tee organ; and Idris Muhammad drums.

Don't Mess was Turrentine's last studio recording for CTI and it stands out among his many classics because his tenor sound was always distinctive, warm and athletic, with deep roots in blues and soul. He consistently brought something new and fresh to his compositions.

For his "Messin' With Mister T" release, Stryker assembles a compelling cast of musicians for a fitting dedication to the illustrious Turrentine. Even Stryker's album name is a playful complement to Turrentine's "Don't Mess" title. Starting with a familiar base for the project, he uses his organ trio consisting of Jared Gold, Mayra Casales and Mclenty Hunter on Hammond B-3 organ, percussion, and drums, respectively. He then adds a nice mix of veteran and young tenor saxophonists.

The ten guest soloists seem to relish this tenor tribute opportunity and they all endeavor to make it count. They are: Houston Person, Mike Lee, Don Braden, Jimmy Heath, Chris Potter, Bob Mintzer, Eric Alexander, Javon Jackson, Steve Slagle, and Tivon Pennicott.

Stryker's ten selected options from Turrentine's expansive songbook are very good. The album swings with a proper Turrentine groove from the opener "La Place Street'' with his guitar intro and Person's tenor. "Pieces of Dreams" works well with Mike' Lee's tenor and Gold's Hammond B-3 flowing along. The guitarist's solo adds to this steady musical stream. The aforementioned Gaye's "Don't Mess" is the centerpiece here. Don Braden, Stryker and his trio are all cooking together to produce a tasty full-bodied rendition of one of Turrentine's signature songs. Hunter's drum kit is unshakable on the arrangement and throughout the record.

"In a Sentimental Mood" featuring the gifted Heath strikes the right tempo and brings to mind sharing a late evening drink with a special someone.Potter does "Impressions" with a competent and enjoyable stance. The "Wade In The Water" nod near the finish is pleasant. Alexander and Stryker continue to bring good energy to the Turrentine staple "Salt Song." "Sugar" bounces along well with more solid tenor by Slagle. "Side Steppin' ," a Stryker original, and "Let It Go" maintain the joyous groove and help round the enjoyable disc.

Guitarist Dave Stryker's "Messin' with Mister T" is a heartfelt testimonial to friend, former bandleader and mentor Stanley Turrentine. By extension, "Messin'" also acknowledges the brilliant Marvin Gaye and helps to bring the timeless legacy of both musical giants forward.

Track Listing: La Place Street; Pieces of Dreams; Don’t Mess with Mister T; In a Sentimental Mood; Impressions; Gibraltar; Salt Song; Sugar; Side Steppin’; Let It Go

Personnel: Dave Stryker: guitar; Jared Gold: Hammond B3 organ; McLenty Hunter: drums; Mayra Casales: percussion (2, 6-10). Special guests – Houston Person: tenor sax (1); Mike Lee: tenor sax (2); Don Braden: tenor sax (3); Jimmy Heath: tenor sax (4); Chris Potter: tenor sax (5); Bob Mintzer: tenor sax (6); Eric Alexander: tenor sax (7); Javon Jackson: tenor sax (8); Steve Slagle: tenor sax (9); Tivon Pennicott: tenor sax (10)

Title: Messin’ with Mister T | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Strikezone Records

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