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Daryl Stuermer: Retrofit

Mark Sabbatini By

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To me, Daryl Stuermer is the ex-Genesis guitarist who did some '80s fusion album that's languished in deep-discount bins almost since its release. A new album doesn't exactly come with high expectations.



Middle-of-the-road instrumental pop, I figure, probably in an above-average wrapping. Nothing too daring on solos, and probably a good background listen when mental defenses are low, but not low enough light jazz starts sounding attractive.



Once in a rare while my instincts hit dead center.



Retrofit, a 2004 self-released collection that is actually his fifth fusion album, is as safe and smooth as mid-tempo fusion gets. He says the collection of mostly original compositions attempts to bring his heyday of classic Corea- and Sanborn-like 1970s fusion into the modern era, but this album could be dropped into any smooth jazz chart from the past twenty years without attracting notice. It creates a pleasant environment without the least risk of generating attention-grabbing excitement, the sort of prototypical radio-play album that's perfect soundtrack music for home-produced camcorder movies.



This probably sounds harsher than it ought: If you want Joe Satriani guitar madness or John Scofield modernistic fusion, look for Satriani or Scofield. If you're into middle-of-the-road instrumental pop, this fills the bill. I've heard far worse.



The compositions and Stuermer's tone have a sort-of blended Larry Carlton/Russ Freeman quality to them. The thick harmonizations and pleasantly unchallenging melodies are the strength of this album in that Rippingtons sort of way. The upbeat hooks on songs like "Retrofit" and "Vagabond Street" are familiar by the second refrain and everything during the next four minutes is based on them, with nobody in danger of clashing or standing out from the anchoring group instrumentation. On ballads like "I Will Remember You" (not bad, actually) Stuermer picks up an acoustic and uses his solo space to paint more sonically than intellectually in suitably pretty fashion.



The biggest shortcoming within the context of the album is there's surprising little change in the pace and feel of the songs. Nearly everything feels like, at most, a variation on a mid-tempo composition with so real twists in style—which isn't necessarily awful, given the pseudo indulgences into Latin, reggae and some other genres common among smooth jazz performers seeking "something new."



I can't pretend to know Stuermer's intent with Retrofit, but if listeners judge it for what it is—simple comfort food jazz with no pretense of deeper ambitions—it deserves praise for going down suitably smoothly. It's one of those times when 30-second previews at online music stores are perfect—one can sample these and know immediately if they'll enjoy it without worrying the rest of the song is drastically different. Those wanting to hear Stuermer stretch a bit in a setting more likely to bring '70s fusion to mind might try 2003's Sweetbottom Live - The Reunion, featuring the quintet he played with from the earlier era.


Track Listing: Retrofit; Rendezvous; Zanzibar; Vagabond Street; Promises; Sharkskin Suit; Midnight Traveler; I Will Remember You; The Least You Can Do

Personnel: Darryl Sturemer, guitars; Kostia, piano and keyboards; Eric Hervey, bass; John Calarco, drums

Title: Retrofit | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Urban Island


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